What Wanderlust — and Hollywood — Just Can't Get Right About Women

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Fully-certified flop Wanderlust might have sold a few more tickets if it had actually done anything remotely interesting with Jennifer Aniston and the rest of its talented female cast. It’s obviously not new that Hollywood doesn’t quite know what to do with comedic actresses (see also Faris, Anna). But it is a little sad in the wake of Bridesmaids’ commercial success – and its Oscars cameo over the weekend – that the rest of the film industry still. Doesn’t. Get It.

I did enjoy parts of Wanderlust, when I could peer around all the lazy, tiresome clichés about How Women Act – but it would have been so easy to avoid them! So as a service to writers and female audiences everywhere, here are five suggestions for how to write comedy roles for women that are better than what Aniston had to make do with in Wanderlust. (Spoilers and feminism ahead.)

1. Stop using us as Eve.
Bridesmaids was really good at creating drama out of its characters’ own bad decisions – they screwed up, they suffered the consequences, they (sometimes) figured out how to fix things. Wanderlust just blames Aniston’s poor Linda for everything. First she convinces her husband to buy a West Village apartment they can’t really afford – a plan that fails so spectacularly that the couple has to flee New York for, shudder, suburban Atlanta. Then she convinces her husband to stay in the hippie commune with free love, rampaging nudist men, and no doors on the toilet. Ensuing marital problems? Mostly her fault! “I drank the Kool-Aid,” she tells Paul Rudd’s George during their tearful climactic reunion. His better instincts to avoid the commune, its peyote and the bared abs of Justin Theroux are all vindicated, of course.

2. Write age-appropriate characters for protagonists older than 31.
Don’t get me wrong, Aniston looks fabulous. I want her wardrobe and her legs. But she’s already played an unemployed 30-something unsure of what she wants to do with her life – six years ago, in Nicole Holofcener’s much sharper Friends with Money. By now both Aniston and the 42-year-old Rudd seem a little too old to play young Manhattanites still figuring out what they want to be when they grow up. And it would be funnier if Linda really embraced the hippie commune life after leaving a steady or rewarding job, not just because she doesn’t have anything better to do with her time. Maybe it’s just the looming prospect of my own 30th birthday and all the significance that’s supposed to have, but watching the 43-year-old Aniston still trying to “pick a major,” as her husband says during an argument, was just depressing. Like watching Private Practice.

3. Give us some friends!
Come on, this is pre-Bridesmaids – the entire Sex and the City franchise succeeded by understanding that women like talking to, crying to, and criticizing other women. But Wanderlust weirdly goes out of its way to avoid giving Linda any family, friends or visible non-marriage relationships she can turn to in a crisis. After George loses his corporate bonus-slave job, we’re told that the couple’s fate is dire – so dire that staying with his loud, racist brother is apparently their only viable option (at least until the commune appears on their GPS). At no point is any reference made to any sort of connections Linda might be able to turn to. Wanderlust couldn’t get Catherine Keener to film one scene as an icy careerist sister silently disappointed in her unemployed younger sibling? Or at least make a reference to Linda’s wealthy parents, who lost everything with Bernie Madoff? (You don’t get to be 43 and still picking a major without having spent your adulthood on some serious family financial support.)

4. Character development means more than taking off our shirts.
Despite the rumors, we do not see Aniston’s breasts in Wanderlust. We’ll just have to make do with her implied breasts. And in the final overall film, yes, there are probably many more manly bits than lady parts visible on screen. That still doesn’t change the fact that Linda’s major triumph as a character is flashing a TV camera crew, in a “protest” move that was dated by the time she was born.

5. Hot women tend to appreciate hot men, or at least cute men, or at least men who have a passing acquaintance with shampoo.
Real-life relationships notwithstanding, Aniston really gets the short end of the free-love stick in Wanderlust. George wants to take advantage of the commune’s partner-swapping rules and sleep with blonde, freshly-laundered Malin Akerman, who’s popped by from a Self magazine cover shoot. Linda reluctantly agrees and succumbs to the shirtless charms of Theroux. He may be dashing in real life, but unfortunately for Linda and female audiences everywhere, he spends most of the movie looking like a squirrel crawled atop his head and died. And really, doesn’t equality start with eye-candy?

Maria Aspan is a writer living in New York whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Reuters and American Banker. She Tweets and Tumbls.



Comments

  • Aitch says:

    Great article. I hope this writer writes more about Women and popular film.

  • Owara Jacksohn says:

    OK. Whoa. Wanderlust was very funny with the funniest parts being: Kathryn Hahn and Kerri Kinney-Silver.

    Its not that the movie was written poorly for women, it was written for an actress outside her comedic realm. Look at Elizabeth Banks in all of David Wain's other movies, she nails her parts because she gets the joke. Aniston just isn't up to par with the rest of the brilliant cast of Wanderlust.

    Also Linda Lavin nails her scenes in this movie.

    • Guest says:

      Please, Aniston is far from outside her comedic realm here. She was woefully underutilized in terms of her comedic skill. She has amazing timing, honed from Friends, time doing sketch-comedy show The Edge, and years of batting with the big male comediennes and improving. Banks is nowhere near Aniston in terms of comedic skill.

    • Maria A says:

      Lots of great, funny parts! But the men supporting characters actually got, yaknow, character, while the women didn't so much. By the end of the movie, I knew much more about the hopes, dreams and motivations of Theroux, Alan Alda and Joe Lo Truglio than about those of Kinney-Silver (wacky!), Hahn (wacky and judgmental!) or Lauren Ambrose (wacky and naive!). It's not a knock on the actresses, but the writers were much more interested in fleshing out the supporting male characters than in doing the same for the women.

  • rainestorm says:

    Oh, Maria, Maria. You're young so I'll try to forgive your naive and judgmental comments on what 43-year-olds should and should not be doing with their lives.

  • MartiniShark says:

    If I can toss my testosterone-polluted 2cents in: What would be most helpful is, like "Bridesmaids", more scripts written by women. But this is not a cure all, as most green-lighting is still male dominated. I'm thinking of the less-than-edifying "The Sweetest Thing", which earned Nancy Pimental $1.5million for writing. Men buying a male-toned script, albeit for women. It did little to impress and possibly stunted more female scripts.

    The Anna Faris condition is an interesting one. She is gifted comedically, but consistently is placed in sub-par work. But is that Hollywood's blame, or her own? Contrast her work with that of Emma Stone, who is clearly a peer yet consistently finds quality roles.

  • dukeroberts says:

    Good insight from all involved, but the thing that really stood out for me was that we don't really get to see Jen's ta-tas. My belief in them making an appearance in the film was a selling point for me, but now I will wait for it to come on DVD.

  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    If I was a totalitarian bent on ensuring my rule through unsteady times, what I would do to is convince every educated woman just past or approaching 30 that with me they'll be guaranteed constant career advancement. I would further propose that anyone past 40 who hasn't yet made it, be enlisted permanently to facilitate society's obvious winners continue on their upward climb, through their courteous, deferential service, of course, and also by serving as manifest accolades, decorating their everyday life, that remind them they're on a course where the light will never not shine benefactorily on them.

    I might take care to hide certain images from public view -- notably, with young film critics, Pauline Kael's, who I think began to finally "get on track" only in her mid 40s, but actually I think given a choice to have to weather 15 years of looking like a loser but ending up as great as her, whatever they might want to think, most and perhaps all 30 year olds would choose the career of uninterrupted accolades and met social/professsional benchmarks over it.

  • Bella says:

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