By Joan Ellis
Is Wanderlust just another lukewarm yuppie comedy? Almost, but not quite. Like it or not, it will be remembered as the movie that broke through the barrier of male nakedness. For decades, the camera has focused on the female body in all degrees of clothing – clinging, barely there, or none. The jokes and innuendos of romantic comedy have been built around the female form. Is she or isn’t she appetizing enough, thin enough, stacked enough, willing enough? Wanderlust upends all this, and if the world doesn’t leave its axis in response, male nudity will quickly become a screen staple.
But first, the plot. Jennifer (Jennifer Anniston) and George (Paul Rudd) have slipped through the grid in Manhattan. She failed in her pitch to sell a TV documentary about penguins with testicular cancer; he lost his job. Unable to pay the rent on their shoebox apartment, they drive to Atlanta where George’s unpleasant, ego driven brother (played badly by co-scriptwriter Ken Marino) has offered George a job. This is the high point of the movie: husband and wife singing and arguing on the road trip to their misadventure. Finally exhausted, they take a turn at a sign that advertises a B & B. By such wrong turns are lives – and promising movies – changed.
The turn leads them to Elysium, a loosely knit retread commune modeled on the free love/self-absorption of the ’60s. As it was back then, this commune is rooted in the rigidity of its own customs. After an ill-fated shot at the brother’s job, the couple returns to Elysium, observing their own dictum, “If you smile all the time you can trick your brain into thinking you’re happy.” Unexpectedly, it is Jennifer who buys into the collective philosophy while George hangs on to the belief that he would rather be a grown-up.
Everything here, you see, is based on “telling the truth” and wandering around doing productive tasks like inspecting leaves. How many people over twenty-five do you know who still want to live in a haze of pot, sex, and self-indulgence? What kills the movie is that Jennifer Anniston, Paul Rudd and their colleagues are too old for these roles. They just look silly. And for good measure we have the founder of the place, Alan Alda, as its elder statesman. Do you want to rush right out to your local theater?
My suggestion would be that you skip this mediocrity while remembering the useless and random fact that its sole distinction will be that it was the starting gate for cinematic male nudity. I suppose we should be grateful that this landmark has been presented comically with a herd of men jostling down a hillside in all their wondrous variety, converts to the natural state advocated by Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio), resident nudist. The Greeks knew that such things are better seen in sculpture and paintings than in action. I bet you can hardly wait.