Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wanderlust (2012) – Review

Review: Wanderlust is a crude comedy that is ultimately funny, but not well crafted. The film is about George and Linda, two New Yorkers who find themselves bankrupt when George loses his job. To get back on their feet, they move to Atlanta to stay with George’s horrible brother, stopping along the way at a commune to spend a night on the road. When George’s brother becomes too much to bare, they decide to give the commune a chance, having spent a wonderful night there. Writer-director David Wain and producer Judd Apatow sort of know what their intended audience wants: R-rated humor in a comedy with strong characters that actually connect with the audience. For most of their intended audience, they get the humor right. And really, this is the saving grace of the film. It is very funny at times, jokes originating from outlandish characters (and normal people, George and Linda, reacting to them) and explicit material (there is a lot of male and female nudity). Taken at face value, the jokes for the most part work well. However, the principal issue with this film is that it is not very well written both from a character standpoint and in terms of its narrative structure, in both cases holding it back from being a good comedy. The jokes do not have as much impact or meaning because the audience does not care about this characters (especially Linda – who is developed to be a foil for whatever is happing around her void of any real emotion of her own). The narrative structure (built by Wain to be a romantic comedy that only works as one when the plot has nowhere else to go) is not only hollow but also ends abruptly without any sense of real dramatic closure. It is as if the filmmakers did not quite know how to end it, so they played out the first moments of the third act and then cut straight to the prologue, hoping that it would wrap up the story enough for the audience (it does not – at least for those that care about story and are not just in it for the jokes). Even with the best jokes in the world (and this is for from having them), characters and story still need to come first (which seems to be a constant theme in Wain’s work: jokes before story and fully developed fleshed out characters). Wanderlust is going to work for some viewers looking to just have fun and laugh at R-rated Wain and Apatow style comedy (and that is fine), but held against the quality of work (especially from Apatow) we have come to expect from these filmmakers this film is quite disappointing.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: David Wain (as stated above) continues to struggle with getting all aspects of his films right. While Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten and this all have very funny moments, all three ultimately are underwhelming because they lack strong characters and good storytelling (though, for Wet Hot American Summer [being a spoof] and The Ten [being a series of shorts] the style of comedy also contributed to the difficulty in achieving developed characters and a well-done narrative). Role Models, however, is a comedy Wain got right, which made my expectations for Wanderlust higher (and is the reason I am more disappointed). Composer Craig Wedren and cinematographer Michael Bonvillain both do straight-forward work for the genre, but Aaron Osborne’s production design that stands out. His sets for the commune both feel exaggerated and funny, while still seeming real enough to accept. I also found his set for George’s brother’s house to be funny (there seems to be a TV playing somewhere in every shot). Wain incorporates many of his buddies from The State, and to mostly very good results. The supporting cast is good, highlighted by Justin Theroux, Alan Alda, Ken Marino, Kathryn Hahn, Kerri Kenney, and especially Joe Lo Truglio. Leads Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd are not really given much to work with character wise and thus Aniston just sort of does the same thing she always does in subpar comedies and Rudd tries his best to be funny as a likable goofy slightly weird and awkward guy. It works for Rudd, though he is much better when playing a fuller character (as any good actor would be) but Aniston just sort of takes up space.

Summary & score: Wanderlust is funny, very funny at times, but just not a very good film as a whole. 6/10

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