Though we're not exactly talking about a groundbreaking comedy, "Wanderlust" finds some good chemistry between Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd and has just enough funny one-liners to make it work, even with a few scenes that go beyond bad to excruciating. With a likeable leading couple and some great early moments, we end up with a mostly funny little trip along the usual plot lines as two normal people try their hand at being full-blown hippies. If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to live as a free-floating beatnik on a commune, "Wanderlust" might save you the trouble of having to ever actually try it out.
George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) begin as just a fairly normal couple struggling with sky-high real estate prices in Manhattan. Deeming themselves too old to be renters, they end up scraping together enough cash to buy a tiny apartment that is modest at best. They may call it a micro-loft, but to George it's really just a studio with an unbelievably inflated price tag. Linda is more confident about the investment, though, and at least George has his favorite coffee place right around the corner. George is used to compromise.
But the near dream life isn't to last, as George gets canned from his job when his boss gets caught for some sort of corporate crime. These days, we've all heard of Enron, so the screenplay doesn't have to pause and explain why their boss is getting hauled off in handcuffs. Linda isn't faring much better either, with her fledgling documentary career floundering badly. People may like penguins, but apparently nobody wants to watch a documentary about penguins suffering with testicular cancer. "Wanderlust" ends up showing a surprising amount of trust in the intelligence of its audience, in the early going anyway, providing a chance to observe their nuances without getting beat over the head with them.
Fresh out of any sort of income, George and Linda have to embrace an unfortunate turn that sends them to Atlanta to live with George's unbearably offensive brother Rick (Ken Marino). So lacking in perspective is Rick that he can't go a single sentence without pole-vaulting over the politically correct line. But instead of making him the movie's punch line, as many lesser movies have done, George and Linda end up merely cringing at being stuck with such an alien. Marino, who is hilarious in Starz' short-lived series "Party Down," has good fun with the role and comes off as a guy you could actually meet, even when he's beyond over-the-top.
Luckily for them, George and Linda stumble upon a full-fledged hippie commune just north of Atlanta, giving them a chance to see a startling new perspective on how to live life. They immediately have fun soaking up the vibes of the little community, though "Wanderlust" gives us only the expected crazy characters designed to fit the hippie stereotype. The people of Elysium seem to have studied books on how to be as hippie as possible, and the subtlety that gets "Wanderlust" off the ground begins to run dry once the nudist jokes really hit stride.
Not content with the story of just George and Linda, "Wanderlust" throws in a half-cocked plot about a corporation taking over the beloved commune, which is about as ho-hum and routine as it sounds. Out of the spread of random personalities at the commune, only the sultry Eva (Malin Akerman) and the forgetful owner Carvin (Alan Alda) stand out as anything more than run-of-the-mill stereotypes. Akerman is type-cast but perfect as the erotic and persuasive Eva, bound and determined to express her free love to the terrified George, and Alda has a couple good moments as an old hippie who casts aside some of the finer rules whenever he feels like it. The commune may be vegan only, but that doesn't stop him from scooting into town and secretly putting down a T-bone every once in a while.
But it all comes down to Rudd and Aniston, who seem like a natural couple on-screen. Rudd plays a usual Rudd character - neurotic, awkward and rambling, filled with a never-ending array of random references. Then there's Aniston, who is back to being the pretty and likeable love interest after being so wickedly funny as the psychotic temptress in "Horrible Bosses." Even though it's a familiar tone for Aniston, she plays it well and it's easy to root for our couple to figure out their near mid-life crisis amidst the well-meaning crazies of Elysium.
Ironically, the experience of watching "Wanderlust" ends up being similar to what George and Linda end up going through at Elysium. In the beginning, it seems like it's a great place to put your feet up and enjoy, but once you get a little deeper into its grip the flaws threaten to overcome the positives. At its best, "Wanderlust" works as a deadpan comedy showing a typical couple in an unusual circumstance, one that many adults have to be at least curious about. At its worst, we get recycled bits of gross-out comedy and we lumber from one sophomoric gag to the next. If George and Linda stumbled upon some more interesting characters, maybe staying in Elysium would be worth it after all.
by RTT Staff Writer
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