The newest film from the brain trust that resulted in "The State," Wet Hot American Summer, and "Stella," Wanderlust is director David Wain's follow up to Role Models. In both films, "normal" protagonists are forced to try and get along with people they consider to be weird, but Role Models was careful to make those outcasts just as easy to empathize with. In Wanderlust, everyone other than George and Linda is basically a sketch comedy character, and therefore they don't really learn anything from the people at Elysium so much as go on their own dramatic journey while Elysium exists around them.
It doesn't help that the hippies here lean toward the stereotypical. A blissful den mother (Kerri Kenney-Silver), a sexual free spirit (Malin Akerman), a cheery nudist with no sense of boundaries (Joe Lo Truglio), and a charismatic leader (Justin Theroux) who swoops in on Linda with ridiculous guitar skills and the promise of liberation all sound like the first characters anyone writing about a commune would invent, and although all of them score laughs, they do so by moving away from these cliches instead of towards them. Even Alan Alda's role as the commune's original founder -- the "cool" hippie who lives the lifestyle but can see right through it -- is pretty uninspired. Several fringe characters make more of an impression, like Marissa (passive-aggressive) and Rick (aggressive-aggressive); Todd Barry in a short cameo as one of Rudd's douchey co-workers; and the complete "Stella" lineup of Wain, Michael Showalter, and Michael Ian Black, who appear with Jessica St. Clair as a team of innuendo-happy newscasters.
Still, Wain can fall back on Paul Rudd, the least secret weapon in his comedy arsenal, and his willingness to perform or react to whatever Wain puts in front of him at a comic volume anywhere from 1 to 25 is enough to prop up the film all by itself. Even having seen it in countless other films, it's amazing how Rudd can score huge laughs with just the raise of an eyebrow, a blank stare, or a perfectly-timed verbal stumble, and yet he's also perfectly willing to take his performance to a level few actors would be willing to consider, tackling a bathroom pep talk and the result that follows with what can only be described as "gusto." He and Aniston make a good team, although her goofiness is subdued; she more capably carries the film's dramatic half. (She's also saddled with an unfortunate mood swing dictated by reshoots; I see why audiences rejected the original version -- see the extras section for more -- but this version is also frustrating.)
Wanderlust is frequently hilarious, thanks in no small part to a stable of funny people who are more than comfortable working with one another. At the same time, it's a messy film that fails to find a way to take characters that are meant to be changing the protagonists' lives seriously. The film tells us, by way of George and Linda's ups and downs, that there must be some truth to the lifestyle choices of the people at Elysium, but we never really get to see what it is. Funny but a little empty, Wain and Marino would've been wise to take a cue from their own story and give in a little more to the Elysium lifestyle.
The Video and Audio
A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is punchy and lively all the way through. You can hear the difference between the big city and the open fields and hills of Elysium, not to mention the dialogue is razor-sharp at all times, and Craig Wedren's catchy score is rendered faithfully and energetically. English Descriptive Video 2.0, Spanish DTS 5.1, French and Spanish subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Next up is an audio commentary by director/producer/co-writer David Wain, producer/co-writer/actor Ken Marino, and producer/actor Paul Rudd. The trio chat about the genesis of the script, how all the actors came on board, logical inconsistencies, and test audiences. They're also "joined" by Albert Brooks, Woody Allen, Christopher Walken, Al Pacino, Bill Clinton, William Shatner, Alan Arkin, Peter Falk, and many other celebrities, all of whom are really impressions done by actor Kevin Pollak. It's a hilarious track, both for the trio's reaction to each impression to the running gag about Pollak's role in the film being excised.
Video extras kick-off with a phenomenally funny gag reel (5:44), and a surprisingly unfunny "Line-O-Rama" (9:10). Apparently all the deleted scenes made it into the Bizarro Cut, because none are included. Featurettes follow: "God Afton!: Behind the Scenes of Wanderlust" (27:13) is a making-of that feels painfully perfunctory when the cast is being interviewed but showcases a ton of great B-roll footage from the set. Next up is Penis Envy (7:41), a fairly funny gag doc about Joe Lo Truglio's complex about his prosthetic appendage, and "The Elysium Campaign" (5:38), showcasing Jordan Peele's strong Obama impression. The whole package is rounded out by an episode of Wain's webshow "Wainy Days: Elysium" (8:37), which finds David stumbling onto the commune and having his own sexual awakening, plus robots.
Trailers for American Reunion, American Pie 1-3 on Blu-Ray, Jaws on Blu-Ray, "Shark Week: 25th Anniversary," Big Miracle, "Transformers: The Ride - 3D," Being Flynn, and Universal Combo Pack play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Wanderlust is also included. The DVD Copy of Wanderlust includes all of the extras except the Bizarro Cut.