Not even three months into the new year, and we’re treated to the latest Judd Apatow-produced R-rated comedy. It’s starting to look suspiciously like diminishing returns: The Sitter may not have born his name, but the Apatovian stamp (it looks like an R) was all over it, and that film barely managed to earn back its budget. Now, Wanderlust – an Apatow creation in fact as well as spirit – may do even worse, landing with a thud this weekend to a gross of just $6.5 million, establishing once and for all that, no matter how likeable Paul Rudd may be, he’s never going to be a leading man.
The movie tracks Rudd as George and his wife Linda (the ageless Jennifer Aniston, looking much better than Angelina Jolie did at the Oscars, by the way) from New York to Atlanta to a hippy commune after George gets fired from his job. All kinds of mischief ensue, mostly involving incongruities that probably would have been absurd in 1970, let alone 2012: the residents of the commune include a nudist novelist who charges around wearing a penis-bag, a crotchety co-founder (Alan Alda) who sneaks away to eat meat every Sunday, and a former porn actress with an apparent rage problem. There’s a stab at a conflict with some unscrupulous businessmen trying to break ground on a casino on the commune’s land, but it barely registers, which is true of most of this confection.
That said, it’s funnier than it has any right to be, skipping along at a quick pace, never making too much of its penis jokes or wacky characters before jumping on to its next absurdity. It’s the sort of movie that is impossible to think of in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ simply because it doesn’t have a shadow of ambition. Will George and Linda resolve their marital problems? What does it matter when there’s an excuse to make a placenta joke?
If this movie is about anything, it’s about how troubles make us need to escape to another reality. For George and Linda, that means running away from New York City and George’s certifiably awful brother in Atlanta to experiment with a whole different kind of lifestyle. For us, it’s about escaping a depressing 2012 to a world where people’s problems can be triumphantly resolved via a two-week stay at a hippie commune, where everyone who seems awful actually is, and where plot points can get conveniently settled by a news-show recap.
The truth, though? It’s not about anything.