Trailer Trash: Wanderlust
By Samuel Hoelker
February 29, 2012
Isn’t it the worst when you see a trailer for a movie that you’re looking forward to and it’s, well, a piece of crap? Sometimes it turns out that the movie is actually fantastic and just the victim of a bad trailer (such as The Descendants), and sometimes that movie is just a flop (such as Your Highness). I’ll be saving you that risk from now on, as I’ll be checking out the films with the lousiest trailers and seeing whether it’s just poor editing that made the trailer terrible, or if no amount of editing could make it good. Today’s study: David Wain’s Wanderlust.
I’m a pretty big David Wain fan. I think Stella is one of the funniest television shows in the history of television, and I enjoy his other films (Role Models, Wet Hot American Summer, and even a few segments of The Ten). Even still, I had a few reservations. His films are a little too mainstream for me, based on his absurd comedy from Stella and his web series “Wainy Days.” While everything else in his films was indeed funny, they rarely breached into the absurdity he does so well. And the Wanderlust trailer was no different.
According to the trailer, Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are over-worked New Yorkers who are too tired to have sex. Once Paul Rudd is fired from his office job (was the last movie where he didn’t have an office job Role Models?), they have to move to what’s apparently the most backwards place in America, Atlanta, where Paul Rudd’s brother wants to have sex with Jennifer Aniston. They also get lost and see a nudist, who leads them to Elysium Bed and Breakfast, which is also a hippie commune. Paul Rudd prefers living there because his brother isn’t trying to have sex with Jennifer Aniston there. They slowly begin enjoying their time there and learn something about themselves there.
Despite some very talented comedians and the use of Elvis Costello’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding,” the trailer is absolutely terrible. The jokes aren’t fresh (Jennifer Aniston’s drug trip is her believing that she can fly. That’s not even a joke), it’s borderline offensive (as most movies that glorify New York are), and it’s painfully obvious. There’s nothing about it, from what I could tell, that would draw someone into seeing it, unless they hate hippie culture (or Georgia) and really want to feel superior about themselves. Plus, it really looks like David Wain doesn’t really know what he’s talking about when it comes to hippies, and there’s nothing more embarrassing than that.
In the end, though, I suppose I should always trust David Wain to pull through, since in the end, Wanderlust is pretty funny. It’s not hilarious, nor is it particularly fresh or well-done, but I’d say it’s a successful comedy. While the stale clichés that the trailer promised were there (and my God are hippie jokes not particularly funny), they are livened up a bit, mostly by Justin Theroux. Theroux, the de facto leader of the commune, is excellent (as he always is) as the scummy/heroic ultra-hippie who uses his leadership and earthy ways to get what he wants. I’m always happy to see him, and I wish he would end up doing more than David Wain movies and writing comic book movie sequels. And while there are a few other moments that transcend what you’d expect, the plot doesn’t do anything outside of what the crappy trailer promised.
As someone who’s lived in the Northeast most of his life, but not New York (I currently live in Boston, which has a rivalry with New York that only Boston seems to know about), I was surprised overall by Wanderlust’s message. While of course it was going to be tolerance, accepting what one has, and “really, aren’t these hippies silly in comparison to us,” it actually ends up with a nice theme of finding happiness wherever you are, whether it’s on a commune, New York, or (what the film considers to be the crappiest city in the county) Atlanta. While yes, it’s obvious that Wain doesn’t quite know what he’s talking about, all that’s basically looked down on is extreme selfishness and greed, which is a direction I didn’t quite expect from the trailer.
And in the end, Wanderlust is funny. It’s got a few tastes of Wain’s great absurdism (and there are a few scenes, the best of the movie, which reunite him with his Stella co-stars Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter), Paul Rudd has funny people around him which thus makes him funny, and he and Aniston have great chemistry (although apparently I should have already known that). Plus, it’s always good to see Alan Alda again (he’s two for two with Tower Heist last year).
My verdict: Wanderlust is better than its trailers. It’s a fine film in a year that’s shaping up to be neither great nor awful, and there have been many February comedies much, much worse than Wanderlust.