Wanderlust and The Iron Lady: Flights from Reality

In David Wain’s enjoyable but uneven Wanderlust, Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are a married couple who have just moved into their overly expensive, not-so-ideal New York City apartment (you’ve seen closets that are bigger) only to be undone by a perfect storm of job loss (his), unfulfilled job expectation (hers), and a plummeting housing market (his and hers). They happen upon a commune in Georgia run by a very shaggy Justin Theroux and an almost equally shaggy Alan Alda. Rudd loves the free and easy nature of the place, whereas Aniston is a tad apprehensive. Nevertheless, after an unhappy interlude with Rudd’s successful vulgarian of a brother, they decide to make a new life for themselves (on a trial basis) with these happy-go-lucky vegans (never thought I’d put those words together). Rudd gets his share of laughs as he tries to reconcile his tenuous hold on marital morality with the free love temptations presented by the enticing Malin Ackerman. Aniston, in her best work in years, does a fine job depicting a frustrated, conflicted soul who leaps at the chance for liberation. However Justin Theroux steals the proceedings as the ultra-hippie whose pseudo-naïve, seductive ways with Aniston prove to be a thorn in Rudd’s side. Yet, for every funny bit, there’s another that falls flat or feels forced, and the screenwriters Wain and Ken Marino do themselves no favors by including a Little Guy vs. Big Casino subplot that causes the characters to behave in generally implausible ways.

Meryl Streep just took home a third Oscar for The Iron Lady, and she—aided by her Oscar-winning make-up men Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland-turns in a remarkable performance as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. She is compelling both in the sections that show her confronting labor unions, foreign unrest, and dissension within Parliament—and the sections that depict her in her dotage, carrying on conversations with her long-deceased husband (Jim Broadbent). The problem here is that the film doesn’t provide any fresh insights into Thatcher, and the film shuttles back and forth between a steely Thatcher in her prime and a dementia-fighting Thatcher of the present to no real discernible effect. What we’re left with is a worthy performance that transcends its material.

Some unsolicited Oscar thoughts:

Billy Crystal was good-not great, but good. He faltered in trying to be a little “hip” but some of the bits worked. I’ve always liked Crystal’s “reading minds” with Nick Nolte and Marty (!) and he amusingly acknowledged when jokes fell flat.

Having watched the Oscars all my life, I’ve noticed something: just when you think the show should be hurtling toward its conclusion, it stops—dead. Just when you think there’s no room for another superfluous montage—there’s yet another superfluous montage of filmmakers, or a musical number, or an homage—or something that causes the last thirty minutes to feel like a hundred and thirty minutes. It doesn’t matter who the host is, who the producer is—the show can’t help but shoot itself in the foot.

I liked Octavia Spencer in The Help—but-she had no idea she was going to win? Really?