MTV's The State was a sketch comedy show in the early 1990's that connected with an entire generation of comedy nerds, myself included. Though the show came and went, what is really amazing is the fact that the group has never stopped working together in various combinations ever since. Several members have made names for themselves behind the scenes, writing and directing various TV shows and popular movies, while others have become successful in front of the camera, often as character actors and scene stealers. All of us who watched and loved The State on MTV have claimed these comedians as our own and followed their careers ever since.
Of all of these cast members, my personal favorite has been David Wain, who has built a career co-writing, directing, and producing some of the weirdest, most surreal, and culty comedies to have come out in the last decade or so. From his semi-autobiographical webseries, Wainy Days, to his true cult classic feature debut, Wet Hot American Summer, Wain always stamps his own distinctive sensibilities into everything he works on. His newest movie, Wanderlust, is no different.
Co-written by Wain and former The State member Ken Marino, Wanderlust follows Role Models as their second foray into more mainstream filmmaking. It's the story of George and Linda (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston), a New York couple, who after several major financial setbacks, decide they can't take it in the city anymore. George's brother Rick offers him a job in Georgia, so they pack their car and head south. On the way down, they have an enchanting night at Elysium, a bed and breakfast that is actually a hippie commune. After George's brother's offered life proves itself to be a nightmare, George and Linda decide to drop out and move back to Elysium. Complications ensue when George realizes that the hippie lifestyle is not as magical as the first night made it seem, while Linda begins to embrace it wholeheartedly.
The movie reminded me very much of the classic Albert Brooks comedy Lost in America (one of my favorites), but with David Wain's sensibilities. He loves to drag jokes out well past the point of being funny and back into being funny again (such as George's hilariously crass, loooong attempt at hyping himself up in front of a mirror for an upcoming extramarital sexual encounter). Wain also plays fast and loose with his script, and many of the best gags feel very in the moment. There's a great, long run with Alan Alda, repeatedly insisting that "Money buys nothing. LITERALLY." Some of his usual trademarks are sacrificed by the mainstream nature of the movie, like the way he messes with things like continuity, or will leave in an actor obviously blowing a take just because it's funny, or including jokes that are intentionally and knowingly terrible, and trusting the audience to understand that. Despite those sacrifices, the tone remains light and silly.
The cast of Wanderlust is pretty amazing, largely filled with David Wain regulars. Paul Rudd has long been a veteran of Wain's films, from way back, even before he was Judd Apatow's go-to guy. The two of them share an understanding of each other. They find the same things funny. Jennifer Aniston is a good sport and throws herself into it, managing to fit in decently well. Six former The State cast members turn up in various roles, but the real scene stealer is Joe Lo Truglio as Wayne, the loveable nudist winemaker/novelist, who doesn't wear a stitch of clothing through the entire film.
Wanderlust is a pretty good entry into the post-Apatow comedy category, and it's more mature and focused than Wain has previously been, but I can't help but miss the utterly bizarre, silly, and non-sequitur qualities of his first two independent films, Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten. This feels like those two movies in some respects, and certainly more so than his previous film, Role Models. Still, I'm such a fan of David Wain, his unique voice, and all these great people he regularly teams up with. I know it didn't open too strongly, but I think Wanderlust will find an audience in the future. It's a really funny movie.