Rob Edelman: The Best and the Worst, Part 1

Dec 17, 2012

Each year, so many downright awful movies make it into theaters. If you set out to compile a list of the ten-best films of a given year, you easily might cite the 25 worst films... or the 35... or the 50. And unfortunately, 2012 was no different.

Sometimes, however, a film is distasteful not just because it is a comedy that is devoid of laughs or an action film that is devoid of thrills. A film can put forth a point-of-view that is downright offensive, and that plays into the very worst instincts of viewers. One such film is WANDERLUST, which came to theaters back in February. WANDERLUST is a comedy that is about as enjoyable as spending the better part of an afternoon waiting on an unemployment line. But because of its world view, I nominate it as the absolute worst movie of the year.

WANDERLUST is the tale of a New York City couple, played by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, who have embraced a high-pressure modern urban lifestyle. And for this, they suffer. They pay big bucks for the purchase of a studio apartment that is hyped as a “micro-loft” but actually seems to be little bigger than a broom closet. After become victims of the recession, they are forced to leave the city. They end up on a rustic 1960s-style commune where, at first, peace and love, compassion and caring, are the norm. But of course, these so-called modern-day hippies who present themselves as humanists are as self-absorbed and money-grubbing as any corporate high-roller.

WANDERLUST is the kind of film that puts forth the notion that anyone who embraces a so-called “alternative” lifestyle is at best insincere and at worst a greedy, materialistic hypocrite. Particularly odious is the character who co-founded the commune four decades earlier and who still resides there. For one thing, he is depicted as a senior citizen who is comically senile. Now any film that pokes fun at older folks who may be dealing with serious health issues, and that depicts them as objects of laughter, is worthy of contempt. And for another, this character claims he is a vegetarian but, ever so predictably, he sneaks off each week to a nearby diner to gorge himself on any and all kinds of meat. This character, by the way, is played by Alan Alda, an otherwise intelligent actor who surely did not read the script before accepting this role.

As I say, I could list dozens of 2012 releases that are clunkers. But WANDERLUST, beyond its failure to entertain, puts forth a blatant cynicism about individuals who reject our consumerist, materialistic culture, or who are not completely self-involved. It puts forth the idea that anyone who is a nonconformist really is a charlatan. It puts forth the notion that everyone, without exception, is consumed by avarice. And for this, WANDERLUST ranks atop my list of the worst movies of 2012.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of  Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

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