Sixties Clichés ruin 'Wanderlust'

The thing about the '60s is that it is so easy to parody. Caricatures abound. Yet, seriously, people did paint old school buses and they did call themselves the Merry Pranksters.

Some, wearing flowers in their hair, loaded up old milk trucks with farm gear and went rural, the earnest wish being to get back to Mother Earth. And it wasn't until the goats wandered off, the chickens ran away, and winter hit with a vengeance that the warm glow of communing with the land lost some allure while testing everyone's resolve to love one another.

At the center of the just-released film, "Wanderlust," is a hippie commune (aka an "intentional community"), in northern Georgia, where the residents are trying mightily to carry on the spirit of the '60s and all its good vibrations. And though no one actually says "groovy," it wouldn't sound out of context if they did.

The problem with trying to nail the Woodstock generation is that it's all but impossible to wring either humor or a story out of that period without slipping into caricature, buttressed by endless clichés. As authentic as that period was, when viewed with a 2012 sensibility, it all seems so improbably shallow. Tune in, turn on, drop out? Really?

The opening setup of "Wanderlust" has a stressed-out, broke, New York City professional couple, Linda (Jennifer Aniston) and George (Paul Rudd) hitting a rough patch. They've lost their jobs and their recently purchased "micro-loft" in the West Village and find themselves with few options other than heading south to Atlanta to live with George's brother, Rick (Ken Marion), a porta-potty mogul.

Mid-trip, they stop at what they assume is a bed and breakfast somewhere in northern Georgia, a charming place that turns out to be a commune called Elysium.

Frayed urbanites, having lost their mojo, meet the seriously laid-back hippies, and as a narrative, it has some dramatic and comic possibilities. But nothing close to either will be realized in this tedious film, so obsessed with frontal nudity that a prosthetic penis, belonging to a resident writer and winemaker, becomes almost a separate character.

The Merry Pranksters of Elysium are far less interesting than George and Linda when they're in New York trying to sell their studio apartment and coping with unemployment.

Unfortunately, they leave the city and convince themselves that the seductive, alternative lifestyle of Elysium is really an option. They decide to stay at the commune for a month, meaning the screenwriters now have carte blanche to attempt compare-and-contrast gags, most growing quickly threadbare. Hippy dippy meets urbanites can only take you so far. Then you need a story.

Rudd gives it his best effort, and Aniston looks great in her Ugg boots and peasant blouses; however, neither have much to say, let alone taking a moment to understand why Elysium would be even remotely attractive.

Both have long outgrown such insubstantial roles, especially Aniston, who can act but chooses roles in which the demands of her are slight and she can coast on her still All-American perkiness.

Act of Valor

During World War II, Hollywood made movies that were unabashedly recruitment films for the military and morale boosters for the war effort. And these movies often starred A-list actors and top-tier directors, led by John Huston and Frank Capra.

"Act of Valor" makes two interesting decisions that sets it apart from those movies made in the early 1940s: the filmmakers, with unlimited access, chose not to make a documentary about the SEALs — their training, their special ops. Instead they crafted what could be called a hybrid film, grafting a thin dramatic narrative with scenes that are the real deal. And they mixed professional actors — Roselyn Sanchez and Nestor Serano as CIA agents, along with Alex Veadov and Jason Cottle as the bad guys — with active duty SEALs.

As might have been expected, the setups that involve gunplay and clandestine operations are all very well done, with an absolute sense of verisimilitude. As are the scenes with the actors.

Where the film seems less than real is when the SEALs attempt to carry the dialogue, delivering wooden lines so spare as to be code. These guys are warriors not actors, and it is painfully evident.

"Act of Valor" is propaganda merged with action-entertainment. Just know going in that the SEALs are short some 500 recruits. This film will help.

Share This Story