When I go to a Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd comedy, I’m not looking for transformative acting à la Meryl Streep. I go for one simple reason: I like Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd. If twenty minutes pass and Aniston is not being true to her laid-back, earthy, best-friend-material persona, and if Rudd is not charming and slaying me with his handsome, genuine buffoonery and made-up words, I am disappointed. Luckily, Wanderlust lived up to my expectations.
This story is a bit unlikely. It takes place in a parallel universe where a married couple like George and Linda (Rudd and Aniston) can one day pay big bucks for a teeny New York City apartment, the next day lose their jobs and said home, and one day later, stumble upon Elysium, a hippie commune where they, for lack of better options, decide to stay a while. The alternative would mean living with George’s heinous brother Rick, a “successful” Hummer-driving Atlanta entrepreneur who makes his family miserable as he flaunts all his unnecessary gadgets, cheats on his wife, and bursts frequently into angry spasms.
Ken Marino, who plays Rick with hilarious exactitude, co-wrote the screenplay with director David Wain (the two had formerly worked together to write Role Models), and, for all its far-fetched scenarios and silly repeat jokes, Wanderlust actually introduces a real issue about balance in our lives. What is success anyway? How important are material things? What is the right way to live?
These are the questions George and Linda attempt to answer as they compare Rick’s high-rolling joy-free life with the farm-to-plate, hallucinogenic sing-alongs they experience at Elysium. The characters they find therein are oft-repeated stereotypes of “hippies,” but the actors make them more interesting than just caricatures. Malin Ackerman glows as a gorgeous nymphette who wants George to get Linda’s permission and sleep with her. Justin Thereaux is at his absurdist best as Seth, a sensual Jesus / Charles Manson-esque character. Joe Lo Truglio is almost too believable as a nudist winemaker / novelist. Add in Alan Alda as a forgetful geezer and, and Kathryn Hahn as a mushy-faced aura reader, and you’ve got a cast that can take any sketch idea and run with it.
Capturing in a nutshell the difference in ethos of New Yorkers, successful southerners, and off-the-gridders, Wanderlust makes light of our society and how seriously we take ourselves. We have choices, this movie reminds us. And if I were you, I’d make the choice to Netflix it.