David Wain is chatting away about his new film, Wanderlust, an oddly affecting comedy about two recently unemployed Manhattanites (played by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) whose financial tailspin forces them to relocate to a free love commune. This is the fourth feature Wain has helmed since attaining cult status back in 2001 with his debut Wet Hot American Summer, which, despite being beloved, was made for two million dollars and grossed only about two hundred thousand. “I almost sold my apartment just so I could keep going.” So Wain knows a thing or two about financial panic.
Even more illuminating might be Wanderlust’s other major obsession: communal living. It’s a motif that has already figured prominently in Wet Hot’s nostalgic—and hilariously named—Camp Firewood, as well the imaginary kingdom of LAIRE, featured in 2008’s Role Models. In Wanderlust, a pivotal character even refers to such groups as “intentional communities.” For Wanderlust (which was co-penned with frequent collaborator, Ken Marino), Wain even brought this emphasis on communal living to the filmmaking process, saying, “[Ken and I] thought of this idea of a place where there are these different characters that were there for different reasons…where people that we love can come up with characters that we love. And, you know, [then] we can work with our friends, which is pretty much my number one goal.”
Sticking with his friends has clearly been a constant in Wain’s career, probably best defined by his involvement in the seminal ’90s sketch comedy troupe, The State, a few members of which also appear in Wanderlust. “You know,” he says, “I’ve worked with the same, fairly tight group of comedic colleagues since I was 18 years old—for 25 years. And with The State, originally, we definitely had a certain philosophy of, ‘We are this group, and we are going to do things a different way, and we don’t have to follow the rules of how the business works.’ We really relied on each other to support each other to do that, and I guess it’s not unlike what the group [in Wanderlust] does, or what I guess, in a looser way, you might see in Wet Hot American Summer.”
Wain’s talented stable of actors is hardly etched in stone; he’s forever on the hunt for new additions, even if—in the case of Jennifer Aniston—they happen to be one of the most famous women in the world. “One of the great pleasures of many of the things I’ve done is [having] a core group of people that I have worked with for decades mixing in with a group of people who are new, newer, or brand new. And it’s so much fun putting that alchemy together.”
Wain insists Aniston folded effortlessly into the Wanderlust collective. “She was just like one of the gang,” he happily reports, “and was sort of keyed in to the sense of humor of the group.”
The key to understanding that humor is its democratic nature, and it is inversely apparent in the intolerable leaders he’s chosen for both Role Models (Ken Jeong’s tyrant, King Argotron) and Wanderlust (Justin Theroux’s false prophet, Seth). But then there’s the singular case of Wet Hot’s supportive camp director played by Janeane Garofalo. Her management style, unlike that of her counterparts, is actually geared more to the purpose of bolstering the contributions of her campers, not controlling them. Sound familiar?
“The way I try to run my work,” says Wain, “is to strike that balance between confidently and preparedly knowing what I want…and at the same time, being very open to major, real collaboration, and making sure everyone knows their voice is important and helpful to the process.”
It’s a sentiment that surely would make Garofalo’s character proud, and we’ll soon see more of her, too in the upcoming Wet Hot sequel. “It’s happening,” confirms Wain, after months of speculation.
Until then, campers, just remember: There’s safety in numbers.