Wanderlust is a 21st century remix of Albert Brooks’ still-sublime Lost in America by way of a Judd Apatow Production, a movie as meandering as the residents of its free-love hippie commune but one given occasional purpose and focus thanks to the underrated comedy powerhouse that is Paul Rudd (who is often ably assisted by his back-up band, Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux).
Rudd and Aniston are George and Linda Gergenblatt, a Manhattan couple who have just purchased a ridiculously expensive “micro-loft” (a hardy-har for any New Yorker) in the West Village that becomes ridiculously unaffordable after George loses his Wall Street job and HBO rejects Linda’s proposal for a documentary about penguins with testicular cancer (which she describes as a cross between An Inconvenient Truth and March of the Penguins — hey, I’d buy it). Since there is now, as it’s rather poignantly stated, “no way to live our lives,” they pack everything up and head to Georgia, where George will work for his porta-potty tycoon brother, Rick (Ken Marino, who co-wrote the script with director David Wain).
En route to a new life in suburban hell, fate (and car trouble) leads them to a bed and breakfast run by the members of Elysium, an “intentional community” (indeed, the flip side of “micro-loft”) run by the charismatic alpha-hippie Seth (Aniston’s latest real-life love, Justin Theroux, once again almost completely unrecognizable). The displaced city folk are invited to join the little group, a proposal that they decide to give a one-month trial run after a few days of living with Rick, a raging racist with a put-upon wife (Michaela Watkins) who’s constantly drunk-ish (a deliciously uncomfortable scenario set in a gaudy Southern mansion that could’ve been expanded into its own movie). But will these stressed-out, uptight big-city yuppies be able to live a life with no privacy or property with free spirits whose half-mantras include such vague nonsense as “Time is our friend” and “Money buys nothing?”
From there, you get a series of sketches featuring silly characters in even sillier situations all patched together in the hopes that having a feature-length running time’s worth of crude jokey-jokes (many of them, of course, improvised) and lots of nudity (more male than female in true Apatow style) means there will magically also be a plot that builds to some sort of satisfying conclusion. It doesn’t quite work out that way, but this same loose “structure” was applied to another Wain-Rudd team-up, Wet Hot American Summer, which distracted us from the fact that there was no real “plot” going on by being as funny as possible at all times (and at all costs). While Wanderlust isn’t as successful in this regard as Summer, it does provide a decent amount of real laughs — and in a surprisingly non-indulgent running time of about 100 minutes (though we’ll probably get the 140-minute version on Blu-ray featuring — again, in true Apatow Production fashion — scenes that go on way too long).
Most of the laughs don’t come from the various members of the commune (many of them grow tiresome and repetitive sooner rather than later) but from Rudd’s reaction to them. Wain lets Aniston off the hook, allowing her to flail around with mostly physical comedy (which she does quite well) as she bursts into song after taking hallucinogenic-laced tea and gets seduced by the suave Seth (Theroux, the only good thing about last spring’s Your Highness besides Natalie Portman’s butt, is once again aces), but Rudd does most of the heavy lifting as the fish out of water who just can’t drop his New Yorker instinct to challenge and argue (his fight with Alan Alda, as the commune’s founder who took a little too much acid back in the day, over the “Money buys nothing” statement is particularly amusing). He can’t quite surrender himself to the commune’s free-love practices, either, despite a rather rousing pep talk to himself in the mirror as he prepares to possibly get down with the resident hot-to-trot blonde (Malin Akerman). Rudd keeps the movie from completely falling apart as George refuses to become as spaced-out as the rest of the characters; his (mostly) unrelenting one-man war against the hippies gives the film a much-needed sense of conflict — and, indeed, an edge.
While Aniston seems to be content with appearing in these kind of half-baked comedies (and indeed, seems to be right at home in them), Rudd deserves more than just an expertly mannered reactionary role. However, even though it rambles idly to and fro, Wanderlust is certainly groovy enough to qualify as a sanctuary from the winter blues.