Normally only die-hard movie buffs pay attention to who the producer of a film is, with the exception of a few notables such as, say, Steven Spielberg.
Now Judd Apatow falls into the category of superstar producer because he has established a clear comedy brand that has successfully mixed foul language, likable underdog characters in extreme situations, and guilty belly-laughs, as evidenced by such box-office-gold films as “Superbad,” “Knocked Up,” “Bridesmaids,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” among many others.
Apatow's latest effort, “Wanderlust,” generated more advance buzz for an alleged Jennifer Aniston nude scene that did not make it into the theatrical version than it did for a tight script that would have audiences roaring in the aisles. This isn't to say that “Wanderlust” doesn't provide laughs. It certainly does. The problem is that it feels like an elongated “Saturday Night Live” skit which the writers threw together seconds before the actors started reciting their lines.
George and Linda Gergenblatt (Paul Rudd and Aniston) are a young couple who just put their life savings into buying a tiny West Village studio apartment. “It's a micro-loft,” Shari (Linda Lavin) their realtor tells them before they sign on the bottom line. Of course within a week both lose their jobs, and given the tough economy, there are no new job on the horizon.
Desperate and broke, George and Linda decide to relocate to Atlanta, where George's arrogant brother, Rick (Ken Marino), has offered him a job in his portable toilet business. Rick loves lording over his younger brother's financial woes. Rick's wife, Marissa (“Saturday Night Live” alum Michaela Watkins) is a bored, unhappy housewife who sips oversized glasses of margarita all day while sniping aloud about her husband's affairs and lack of attention. These “Diary of an Atlanta Suburb” scenes are the high points this movie.
On the way down to Rick's house, a very tired George and Linda need to get some rest in a hotel. They find that the only lodging available is the Elysium, which is located on a commune in northern Georgia.
This gives the filmmakers a chance to milk laughs out of the 1960s liberal counterculture, and they do. We meet the expected assortment of characters: Karen (Kerri Kenny), the loopy hotel manager; Almond (Lauren Ambrose), the quintessential Earth Shoes-wearing hippie chick who is pregnant and determined to deliver her baby without medical attention of any kind; Eva (Malin Akerman), the beautiful blonde bombshell who looks as if she just stepped out of one of Hef's parties at the Playboy Mansion and naturally is a proponent of free love; and the duplicitous Dionysus-like leader of the gang, Seth (Justin Theroux).
The most memorable characters who make “Wanderlust” worth watching, despite a choppy script and even choppier directing, are Elysium co-founder Carvin (Alan Alda in fine form as an aging baby boomer who shows signs of senility) and Wayne Davidson (Ozone Park native Joe Lo Truglio), a nudist winemaker who aspires to be a novelist.
Fed up with taking his brother's abuse, George tells Linda that they should return to join the Elysium commune since everyone there seems so happy. Linda understandably hesitates but agrees after George promises that it will be a two-week experiment. As you probably can guess, it will be George who becmes disillusioned while Linda is the one who wants to say after the probationary period is up.
With the possible exception of Ben Stiller, I can't think of anyone who is as good at playing regular guys who have to endure countless indignities with grace as Rudd. He is entirely credible again here.
Enough has been written about Aniston's failure to become a movie star since the end of leaving “Friends” eight years ago. While you never quite believe that her character would even spend five minutes at the wacky Elysium, her performance overall is quite good.
“Wanderlust” is certainly worth watching, though not necessarily in a theater. This is exactly the kind of movie that’s perfect for Netflix or cable.