Wanderlust: The Rise of the Counter-Countercultural Comedy
February 24, 2012 - 12:00 am
You don’t generally go to bawdy R-rated comedies stuffed with drug abuse, profanity and nudity for political messages, especially conservative ones. So when such a movie comes along and it unashamedly makes the case for monogamy, stability and private property over collectivist ideals, you should pay attention.
The movie is a Jennifer Aniston-Paul Rudd comedy produced by Judd Apatow called Wanderlust. The pair play a married couple who try to find fulfilling work in Manhattan but can’t afford it. (She is a classic artsy but barely employed type who is working on a documentary about penguins with testicular cancer.) George (Rudd) loses his finance job, so he swallows hard and accepts an offer to stay with his well-off but obnoxious brother (Ken Marino) in Atlanta. George and Linda (Aniston) pile their possessions into their tiny car and head South. Along the way, they pull over at what they think is going to be a bed and breakfast, but the establishment turns out to be a hippie free-love commune full of wacky characters such as a bald and chubby little man whose salient characteristics are that he is writing a novel that seems destined never to be finished, he’s always carrying a glass of red wine and he’s always naked.
Having stayed the night at this strange but friendly place, they move on to George’s brother Rick’s house, where things quickly turn unbearable. It turns out Rick’s fortune is in portable toilets, and his personality is as cuddly as his job. He keeps making bad dirty jokes, calling his brother a loser who doesn’t understand the importance of hard work and making his wife (Michaela Watkins) so bored and alienated that she drinks margaritas all day. Lost for a place to go, George and Linda decide that they at least feel loved at the commune. They move in with the hippies and try to fit in with the ethos of the place, which is led by a furry but charismatic dude named Seth (Justin Theroux) and was co-founded by a crusty old survivor (Alan Alda) of the Flower Power generation.
The expected clash of yuppies and hippies leads to some hilarious moments (as well as some jokes that are repeated too often), but it’s the way the movie allows disillusionment to settle in on George and Linda that gives it meaning. The commune renounces meat eating, capitalism, materialism and individualism while celebrating love, egalitarianism, honesty, openness and drug “experiments.” Each of the latter ideas is gradually shown to be unworkable and flawed as the advantages of the former come to light. For instance, a scene in which the Theroux character commands everyone to sit in a circle and be absolutely forthright with each other leads to bad blood between George and Linda. The compound has no doors, which yields a scene in which George tries to use a toilet and is bewildered to find other residents gathering around him to chat. Drugs are held to be a wonderful way to explore one’s inner self — until Linda climbs into a tree while high on hallucinogens and nearly dies because she thinks she can fly.