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Wanderlust

 

 

First, an apology: people my age should not still be obsessing about the sixties counterculture as the sun finally sets on that topic. We had, after all, been forced to endure so many TV series about (quote) the SIXTIES (unquote) in our youth that even today it’s not uncommon to find people my age who know more about Woodstock than the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 

(I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide which event is more important to the 20th century.)

 

We told ourselves that things would be different when we controlled the levers of the Hollywood machine. We promised, as we cranked up Flock of Seagulls in defiance of the steady hum of easy ’80s music rising up the stairwell on clouds of patchouli, that we would change the narrative. We knew that children were our future and if you treated them well… well, at least pop culture would not have the air of a fossilized fart.

 

So to all you Gen Y types smoldering because you have to endure films addressing the unresolved issues between Generation X and the Baby Boomers – or even worse, who have to sit through remakes of tidal swamp gas like the upcoming 21 Jump Street – I offer my sincere apologies. Come to find out, people my age suck, too.

 

So, ok, let’s look at Wanderlust, the second or third film to float rumors that Jennifer Aniston will go topless (my god, who could care less?) and the third film this year to inject modern (middle-aged) Xers in sixties’ style communes, thus showing both the silliness of the former counterculture and also what we’ve all lost by turning our backs on its idealism.

 

(On the first account, let me spoil it for you: Aniston remains chaste. Oh, grow up; I give you this information as a public service announcement. Mark my words, Aniston will drop her top the moment no one in the world could possibly be interested in what she has to offer.)

 

Scraping by in New York City, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Aniston) are a thoroughly modern couple: Overworked, exhausted, barely hanging on. He works in a faceless corporation as a bean-counter, she’s a lost idealist drifting from one career to another. Their newest fiction is an upscale micro-loft with the added benefit that it’s only several blocks from George’s favorite coffee bar.

 

Their life is small and expensive, but because they’re exhausted and anesthetized, they barely notice how small their dreams are until George’s company melts down and everyone loses their job. Set adrift, they begin the long migration to Atlanta, where George’s brother promises him a job. They stop at a B&B for a night along the way and stumble onto Elysium, a commune that seems ripped out of another time.  
The night they meet new friends, rediscover their sensuality, and get really, really high. It’s enough to make them question their chosen path, but not enough to stop them, and they leave the next day for George’s brother’s house, feeling rejuvenated from the experience.

 

Rick (Ken Marino) leases port-o-potties and lives in a soulless Atlanta subdivision that makes wealth seem like a bad idea. His wife boozes it up day and night trying to escape their marriage. Rick himself is as loathsome and despicable a character as I’ve seen in years, riding his younger brother relentlessly.

 

The film is pretty much just television with a very predictable arc. As with most narratives of this type, a happy resolution involves synthesis of opposites. In this case accepting the need for bourgeois marriage values and a fairly traditional work ethic while holding onto higher ideals… and… yawn…

 

But there are some funny moments in Wanderlust despite its flimsy foundation. Marino embodies the bad brother who kicks you down while offering you a hand up and it was genius casting Alan Alda as the ex-hippie owner of Elysium. Alda was considered the sexiest man alive throughout the 1970s, kids, and is as good a stand-in for the soft-serve ideas of the New Age as Phil Donahue.

 

Rudd has quickly become the go-to actor for my generation, combining cynical detachment with genuine warmth and spot-on physical comedy. In the film’s funniest scene, he attempts to psyche himself up to abandon his petty values and literally becomes a different person in the process.

 

But for me the scene that most captures the spirit of the film comes near the end, when a crowd of old nudists descend on George and Linda. Like pale ghosts, their crones’ hands clawing forward, breasts bouncing, they are the reality that the culture has willed away, the anti-Woodstock that delivers not eternal youth, but counterculture vales married to aging and diseased bodies.

 

It is as though all the time that has been frozen in place in Woodstock the Movie -- all those romanticized static shots from 40 years ago -- have been released in one terrible torrent of flesh. We can confront this reality now, those of us who have had to put up with the illusion that the 1960s were our best hour for most of our lives, but I’m not sure we should.

 

The scene feels like revenge. Now, when they want to disbelieve old age the most, we finally have the Boomers on the run. We make them dance naked in the street again, not as symbols of eternal youth, but as real-life examples of decay. We can snicker at them all we want, but you’re still owed an apology.

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