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The Films of David Wain

Wet Hot American Summer (April 26/02)

That whooshing sound you hear is the majority of the jokes in Wet Hot American Summer sailing right over my head. Though it purports to be a parody of '80s summer camp comedies like Meatballs, the film is just as silly as most of those but with a twist - a good portion of the jokes make no sense whatsoever. Take, for example, a sequence in which a man on a motorcycle chases another man on foot. The motorcyclist cannot catch up to the running man, and in fact, when a small box appears in the middle of the road, the motorcycle-driving man gives up the chase. This sequence was obviously meant to be funny (and is probably a parody of something), but I just didn't get it. The same was true with about 90% of the other jokes in the film. It's not a complete wash, though. Law and Order: SVU's Chris Meloni is hilarious as a disgruntled Vietnam vet with some awfully bizarre peccadilloes, and Frasier's David Hyde Pierce is equally effective as a temperamental physicist.

out of

The Ten

Role Models (May 8/10)

A typically underwhelming post-Apatow comedy, Role Models follows underachievers Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) as they're forced into a Big Brothers-type program after wreaking havoc at a local high school - with the movie subsequently detailing the twosome's individual efforts at bonding with their respective matches (Danny is paired with Christopher Mintz-Plasse's geeky Augie, while Wheeler finds himself assigned to Bobb'e J. Thompson's aggressively foul-mouthed Ronnie). Role Models suffers from a pervasively generic atmosphere that's perpetuated by its myriad of hopelessly familiar attributes, as director David Wain has infused the proceedings with an entirely bland sensibility that inevitably cancels out the movie's few positive elements (including the lazy yet personable work from the various actors). It seems fairly obvious that the film's resemblance to any number of modern comedies stands as its most glaring deficiency, with the emphasis on improvisation and the free-wheeling sense of plotting certainly evoking Judd Apatow's similarly-themed catalogue - yet it's clear almost instantly that Wain simply does not possess Apatow's skill at blending laughs with heart, as the filmmaker's efforts at infusing the narrative with bursts of drama come off as clumsy and eye-rollingly heavy handed. The inclusion of a few genuinely hilarious one-liners and bits - most of which come courtesy of Jane Lynch's scene-stealing turn as Danny and Wheeler's supervisor - ultimately prevents Role Models from morphing into the flat-out disaster one might've anticipated, although, given the level of talent both in front of and behind the camera, it's impossible not to walk away from the movie feeling like a serious opportunity has been missed.

out of

Wanderlust (March 20/12)

Written by David Wain and Ken Marino, Wanderlust follows New York-based couple George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) as mounting money problems force the pair to move into a sketchy hippie commune - with the film subsequently detailing the wackiness that inevitably ensues as George and Linda rub shoulders with the commune's plethora of off-kilter inhabitants. Despite the decidedly stale nature of its premise, Wanderlust boasts an entertainingly affable opening half hour that admittedly does hold some promise - as the personable work from both Rudd and Aniston is heightened by the inclusion of a few chuckle-worthy jokes and gags. The watchable atmosphere persists right up until George and Linda arrive at that aforementioned commune, after which point Wanderlust slowly but surely morphs into a seriously tedious piece of work - with Wain and Marino's aggressive emphasis on hopelessly stale and hackneyed elements playing an instrumental role in the movie's palpable downfall. The almost astonishing lack of subtlety within the proceedings is reflected most keenly in the one-note portrayal of the commune's various residents, as each and every one of these characters has been infused with eye-rollingly broad attributes that are compounded by the actors' painfully over-the-top work (eg Lauren Ambrose's grating turn as an earthy nutcase who delivers her baby without any assistance). It is, as such, not surprising to note that Wanderlust eventually adopts a fairly interminable and endless sort of feel, which ultimately does cement the movie's place as yet another in an increasingly long line of subpar comedies from producer Judd Apatow.

out of

They Came Together (July 20/14)

A gleefully larger-than-life spoof of romantic comedies, They Came Together follows Paul Rudd's Joel and Amy Poehler's Molly as they inevitably progress from mutual hatred to a full-blown relationship. It's immediately clear that filmmaker David Wain isn't looking to craft an understated satire here, as They Came Together boasts a relentlessly broad, hit-you-over-the-head sensibility that immediately transforms the movie into a polarizing experience. It's clear, also, that Wain's modus operandi paves the way for a rather uneven cinematic experience, with the pervasive lack of subtlety resulting in an atmosphere that can be, on occasion, a little tiresome (ie all the characters are in on the joke all the time). Having said that, They Came Together benefits from the inclusion of several laugh-out-loud bits of comedic silliness - with the almost incredible roster of performers certainly doing their part to sell the film's myriad of outrageous jokes and gags. (Though the supporting cast includes Ed Helms, Bill Hader, and Ken Marino, it's Christopher Meloni, cast as Joel's callous boss, who delivers the movie's most consistently hilarious performance.) Wain and Michael Showalter's screenplay hits virtually every plot point one has come to associate with the romcom genre, and it's clear that the movie consequently remains quite watchable even through its more overtly ineffective stretches - with the picture's negative attributes virtually rendered moot by a gloriously over-the-top and thoroughly engaging climax. The end result is a parody film that admittedly does feel like a three minute College Humor sketch expanded to feature length, yet there's little doubt that They Came Together, for the most part, establishes itself as a funny, on-point skewering of romantic comedies.

out of

A Futile and Stupid Gesture (January 30/18)

An irreverent, entertaining biopic, A Futile and Stupid Gesture details the rise of the National Lampoon brand in the 1970s and the impact its success has on its two editors/creators (Will Forte's Doug Kenney and Domhnall Gleason's Henry Beard). Filmmaker David Wain announces his decidedly off-kilter intentions right from the get-go, as A Futile and Stupid Gesture features an older version of Forte's character (played by Martin Mull) essentially narrating the movie's events - with the picture likewise boasting a number of decidedly oddball elements (including the casting of Joel McHale as his former Community castmate, Chevy Chase). It's Wain's idiosyncratic approach that ultimately compensates for the script's often by-the-numbers sensibilities, as screenwriters Michael Colton and John Aboud employ the structure of a fairly conventional biopic that's rife with many of the elements one expects from the genre (eg there's an ongoing emphasis on Doug's rocky relationship with his decidedly indifferent parents). And yet there's never a point at which this familiarity becomes oppressive, as Wain's lighthearted treatment of the material is perpetuated by an assortment of affable, entertaining attributes - with Forte's typically off-the-wall turn as the oddball protagonist certainly ranking high on the film's list of palpable pleasures. The predictably bizarre final stretch confirms A Futile and Stupid Gesture's place as a solid true-life tale, with Wain ultimately the perfect choice to shepherd this quirky story to the silver screen.

out of

© David Nusair