Toni Collette gets inside a swinger’s head
Toni Collette’s ability to fully empathize with her screen characters is one of the traits that makes her consistently watchable as an actress, as her acclaimed performances in “The Sixth Sense,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “United States of Tara” and “Muriel’s Wedding” demonstrate.
But, the 45-year-old thespian has got her work cut out for her as she attempts to dig deep under the surface of Joy Richards, the therapist she portrays in Netflix’s six-episode series “Wanderlust,” which will be streamed starting Oct. 19.
In the Manchester, UK-based drama, Joy is thrust into a different kind of marital discord after a cycling accident compels her and her husband, English professor Allan (Steven Mackintosh), to reassess their 20-year relationship as husband and wife.
On surface, theirs is a blissful union that has yielded three children—25-year-old Laura (Celeste Dring), 18-year-old Naomi (Emma D’Arcy) and 16-year-old virgin Tom (Joe Hurst)—but is characterized by long stretches of boredom and sexual ennui. They still love each other, but don’t find their partners sexually appealing anymore.
To resuscitate their flatlining sex life, Joy and Allan decide to continue living together, stop having sex, and start seeing other people—a situation that unexpectedly brings a different kind of excitement and satisfaction in the bedroom.
Allan spends his downtime smoking weed and rolling in the hay with fellow teacher Claire Pascal (Zawe Ashton), while Joy finds herself “hopscotching” from one blind date to another after her “sexmate” of choice, dashing police officer Marvin Walters (William Ash), gets turned off by the swinging couple’s bizarre but consensual “arrangement.”
To wrap her head around the unconventional setup, Joy starts seeing a therapist, Angela Bowden (Sophie Okonedo), to seek “clarity” and enlightenment.
But, the situation takes a messier turn when daughter Laura catches Joy on a date with another guy! This forces Allan and Joy to open up to their shocked children and lay their cards on the table.
Just in as deep of a bind is closeted lesbian Naomi, who begins to explore her unraveling sexuality with their pie-baking next-door neighbor Rita Bellows (Anastasia Hille), who’s on the rebound from the painful breakdown of her marriage.
Toni proficiently carries Joy’s dilemma on her sturdy thespic shoulders. She and her coactors turn in quirky, insightful performances. But, even “progressive” viewers will have a difficult time finding a palatable excuse for their perverse “proclivities.”
In an age when lifelong or “old-fashioned” monogamy is constantly being hounded by a barrage of temptations, “Wanderlust” reminds viewers that there are no quick and easy fixes for life’s troubles, and dares to examine how far we’re willing to go to keep the relationships we hold dear in our hearts intact.
In a predominantly Catholic country such as ours, Joy’s “unique” dilemma could easily be misconstrued either as a prolonged variant of the seven-year itch or just plain midlife promiscuity. You be the judge.
Are open relationships the “in” thing nowadays? In the case of Joy and Allan, who think they can have their cake and eat it too, that’s how the cookie crumbles—until they’re taught crucial lessons that’ll hound them for the rest of their discontented lives.
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