(by Dustin Putman
Much like the loose, completely Zen, "free-to-be-you-and-me" residents of a hippie commune where unemployed New Yorkers George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) find themselves staying at, "Wanderlust" is a tad scattered, a little unwieldy, but never less than eager to please. Written and directed by David Wain (2008's "Role Models") and co-written by Ken Marino, the film straddles the conventions of mainstream moviemaking with taboo concepts its city dwellers dabble in (open marriages, hallucinogenics, going nude) while letting its classy comedic ensemble go to town while doing what they do best. Improvisation and ad-libbing are no doubt the source of much of the humor, and Wain is wise to have trusted their instincts. Above all, they keep things sprightly as the predictable plot starts spinning in the third act and a few jabs at comic lunacy fall flat while going too far. Article continues below
Married couple George and Linda have barely settled into their overpriced Manhattan microloft when they are simultaneously struck with bad news: George loses his comfy office job after the FBI closes the company down and HBO rejects aspiring filmmaker Linda's latest documentary. Unable to afford their new home, they begrudgingly head to Atlanta where George's aggressively ignorant brother Rick (Dan Marino) has agreed to give him a job and a place to stay while they get back on their feet. When this setup becomes too unbearable to stand (it takes all of a day), they return to Elysium, the joyous rural commune they previously stayed at on their way down. Free from the shackles of conformist society, George and Linda had been happier there than they'd been in a long time. A two-week trial run of this new way of living follows. What they don't expect is how much Elysium is about to test the strength of their marriage.
In "Wanderlust," the key to the biggest laughs is in the wordplay and self-deprecating banter, not in the more physical gags (a slow-motion shot of old people running nude through a field is grossly exploitative and not the least bit funny). Still, the ratio of hits to misses is relatively steady and high here, the editing by David Moritz (2009's "It's Complicated") and Robert Nassau keeping the pace pert despite its tendency to linger a second or two longer than expected on certain shots to further draw out an amusingly droll tone. From Linda's disastrous meeting with HBO about her overly depressing documentary on Antarctic peril ("Fuck the penguins!" the straight-shooting network exec tells her); to the long-suffering constant booziness of Rick's broken-down wife Marissa (Michaela Watkins), who muses about her husband's infidelity and her unhappiness over motherhood in the same breath; to the breadth of part-quirky/part-awkward charms of the high-and-happy commune citizens, the film is rarely lacking in workable merriment.
What is a bigger pill to swallow is how taken Linda, especially, becomes with Elysium, okay about random people invading their space (there are no doors in the house, as it disrupts the flow), wrecking their car in the lake, and even sitting with them in the bathroom while they do their business. The film appreciably does not view these people as the butts of jokes, instead seeing them for who they are, in their virtuousness and flaws just like everyone else. If this lifestyle isn't right for some, though, who's to say it wouldn't be ideal for others? Linda doesn't seem like the type to get caught up in this world, but perhaps she's only fooling herself to distract from her confusion over what it is she wants to do with the rest of her life. Meanwhile, the whole subplot about snotty land developers wanting to build a casino on top of the commune is overdone and adds nothing but tacked-on conflict to a story that doesn't need it. Justin Theroux (2011's "Your Highness"), as Elysium's unofficial leader Seth, is a natural as he plays both sides of the fence, his character's smarminess underlying the rules of an insular community he only follows when he sees fit.
Paul Rudd (2011's "Our Idiot Brother") and Jennifer Aniston (2011's "Just Go with It") go for broke as George and Linda. Usually, it is the supporting characters whom are far more colorful than the leads, but these two fulfill their end of the bargain as they are thrown into fish-out-of-water situations and react accordingly. Rudd, as when he is trying to garner the courage to sleep with beautiful member Eva (Malin Akerman) and only embarrasses himself with off-puttingly frank sex talk, and Aniston, who squats in the yard to do more than play with the children, are game players, and behind that is a relationship between two people that feels comfortably lived-in. Putting their underused skills as funnywomen to invaluable use in supporting roles are Kerri Kenney-Silver (2007's "Reno 911!: Miami"), as the deliciously deadpan Kathy; Kathryn Hahn (2010's "How Do You Know"), as the domineeringly aggressive Karen; Lauren Ambrose (2010's "The Other Woman"), as the willowy, very much pregnant Almond; and Michaela Watkins (2010's "The Back-Up Plan"), as George's haplessly put-upon sister-in-law Marissa. Alan Alda (2011's "Tower Heist") is also a welcome presence as Carvin, the last remaining founding member of Elysium-or so he thinks.
There is no surprise in the generalities of where "Wanderlust" ends up, even if the means of getting there are too broad and ungainly (the film could have done without the out-of-control SUV ransacking a nudist wine-testing and the ensuing fight that follows). Beyond this, George and Linda are a couple who deserve each other, who are honest and talk through their problems, and who, when it comes down to it, probably couldn't stay away from each other if they tried. Isn't that what being in love and fully committed to another person is all about? "Wanderlust" gets their relationship right while earning more consistent chuckles than the genre norm. This isn't the new "Bridesmaids," mind you-it's not nearly as focused and centered as that lightning-in-a-bottle classic was-but few comedies are. Fans of the cast are sure to have a particularly good time.