Monday, November 1, 2010


Genre: Comedy
Premise: An urban couple hit by the recession move into a hippie compound.
About: Co-writer Ken Marino and co-writer/director David Wain are the writers responsible for one of the better comedy screenplays I read in 2008, Role Models.  Their new film, Wanderlust, will be produced by none other than the current Godfather of film comedy, Judd Apatow. The film will star Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Malin Akerman, Alan Alda, and, I assume, many others. Wain and Marino have been working together for over 15 years, starting on the MTV show “The State.” Before their big studio breakout “Role Models,” they wrote the cult classic “Wet Hot American Summer,” and the more recent The Ten, which consisted of ten shorts based on the Ten Commandments.
Writers: Ken Marino and David Wain
Details: 117 pages – January 21, 2010 draft (This is an early draft of the script. The situations, characters, and plot may change significantly by the time the film is released. This is not a definitive statement about the project, but rather an analysis of this unique draft as it pertains to the craft of screenwriting).

Didn’t know much about Wanderlust. Just saw that a pretty interesting cast was being signed up to star in the film and thought I’d give it a shot. Once I realized what it was about, I admit my first thought was, “Doesn’t this sound dated?” Then again, querying the movie memory banks didn’t bring up any similar films so maybe it doesn’t matter. They say the best movie ideas are the ones where you hear them and say, “No, they have to have done that already.” Despite all that, something about the idea didn’t quite sit with me. But I charged ahead and tried to keep an open mind.

George and Linda, two uptight city-dwellers, have finally found their dream condo (all ‘less than 1000 square feet’ of it) in New York. They can’t afford it but like any good American, they don’t let that minor detail get in the way of buying the place.

Now none of us carry a crystal ball around with us but it doesn’t take a crystal ball to know that the newspaper business isn’t on the up-and-up. And unfortunately, that’s where George is employed. Since Georgie didn’t get the memo about the internet, he’s shocked when the company downsizes and he’s fired. Since there’s no way they can afford their place anymore, they’re forced to follow the same path as millions of other Americans and foreclose.

Regrettably, the only place George and Linda can stay is at George’s obnoxious brother’s place in Atlanta. However while driving down there they stop at a Bed and Breakfast for the night and when they wake up, realize it isn’t a Bed and Breakfast at all, but a hippie compound!

Naturally, they’re freaked out, but there was something strangely peaceful about their night there. So when the hippie folk invite them to stay and live with them, the two talk it over and against all reasoning and logic decide to give it a shot. I mean, it’s gotta be better than staying with Brother George, right?

(I don’t know. I know people a lot worse than Brother George, and I’m pretty sure I’d sleep in their damn cellar over sleeping with hippies.)


George and Linda are quickly thrust into the hippie life, complete with bathrooms without doors, an economy that’s run on arts and crafts, and the rule of universal possession (George quickly learns that *his* car is now *everyone’s* car).

But we get down to brass tacks when creepy but good-looking Seth, the leader of the compound, takes a liking to Linda, while the “Wicker Man” like beauty, Eva, becomes infatuated with George. You see, out here in Hippie World, sex is like…free, man. If you want to lay down with a lady, you do it. There are no societal confines. Love thy self and love thy neighbor and love everybody…thy else…who…thy…wants to love…or something. Man.

At first George is thrilled by this amazing opportunity, while Linda isn’t so sure. As they become more entrenched in the way of the Hip, however, it’s Linda who gives in to all the free love, and it’s George who realizes, “What the hell was I thinking by agreeing to stay in this rathole?” If they could construct a device where readers could talk to characters I might have been able to tell him that 50 pages ago and saved him a lot of trouble. However that device hasn’t been invented yet, and therefore there’s a good chance George has now lost his wife to a bunch of freaking hippies.

The first question that pops into your mind when reading Wanderlust is the one which, when answered, will determine the success of this movie: Do you actually buy into this premise? One of the hardest things to navigate when writing comedy is, how convincing do you have to be? A part of you says, “Well this is just a comedy, so anything goes.” But there’s still a level of realism that has to be established before you can let loose with your comedy. Many people refer to this as “grounding” a comedy.

I mean do you really believe a neurotic intelligent city couple are going to spend one night in a compound and think, “Hey, why don’t we live here?” Wain and Marino do a good job setting up the couple’s predicament, but still, “being low on funds” and “being so low on funds that I’m going to live in the middle of a forest and dress in rags” are two different things.

If you look at Apatow’s most successful films, movies like Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, even though they’re comedies, there’s a level of believability built into each premise. A woman gets knocked up by a loser on a drunken night out. There’s a part of her that’s going to want him around to help with this baby. The 40 Year Old Virgin, as silly as it gets, is still a plausible situation. Some guys at work realize you’re still a virgin and want to help you get laid.

My feeling is always this when it comes to comedy. The more the plot is tied into a particular story element, the more logical (as opposed to ‘comedic’) that story element needs to be. So in this case, since the story element (choosing to live in a compound) is directly tied into the premise, it has to be convincing.

Of course there’s no science to this stuff. Sometimes if an audience loves a couple enough, they’ll be more forgiving with a hard-to-buy setup. But no matter where I was in this story, I kept coming back to that question, “Would these guys really be here?” And I kept thinking, “No way in a million years.” And I think that’s what prevented me from really getting into this story.

My only other observation is I thought Seth should’ve been more of a phony - more of a villain. It’s not really clear whether Seth believes any of the hippy shit or is just using it as an excuse to bang hippie chicks. The indication, though, is that he believes in it, and I just thought he could’ve been so much more evil and fun if he was a phony, using this opportunity to run his own little mini-cult.

I didn’t think Wanderlust was bad. I just never totally bought into it. I didn’t like how our characters could get up and leave at any moment, yet despite numerous instances where it would make perfect sense for them to do so, they’d stay because the movie needed them to. There’s definitely some funny stuff here, and I’m sure Apatow will be exercising his now famous “improvise everything” technique resulting in an even funnier film. It just wasn’t for me.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Create your own opportunities. As a 21 year old glorified assistant at MTV, David Wain’s idea for a show was shot down, so he grabbed a camera and some friends and went and shot the show on a Hi-8 camera anyways, bringing it back to the MTV people, who liked it so much they ended up using it. Opportunities are everywhere people. You gotta go grab them.