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Review: ‘Wanderlust’

Gemma La Mana/Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Wanderlust is much funnier than it had ought to be considering that it might have been known as the movie in which Jennifer Aniston lost the upper-hand (by frolicking with her then-attached costar Justin Theroux). Instead, cowriter-director David Wain (Role Models) brings to Wanderlust the same oddball sensibility that he did to his 2001 cult classic Wet Hot American Summer.

Like many New Yorkers, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Aniston) are so “aspirational” in their lifestyle that they get hoodwinked into buying a studio apartment — a “micro-loft” corrects their realtor — in the West Village that they can barely afford. When George is promptly fired from his lucrative job and the ever-dabbling Linda pitches a documentary about penguins with testicular cancer and melting glaciers to HBO, who prefer “violence and heartache, but sexy,” they see their prospects dwindle. The pair have to move to Atlanta to live with George’s raging asshole of a brother (played to perfection by cowriter/former Party Downstar Ken Molina) and his margarita-medicating housewife (former SNL star Michaela Watkins), which makes their one-night stay at Elysium, a commune also lovingly referred to as an “intentional community”, all the more attractive.

Setting the stage for a face-off between the city mice and the hippie mice, Linda and George get stranded at the commune — or, rather, “intentional community” — and initially find it liberating to forgo their “sleeping pills and BlackBerries.” The cast of charcaters are unsurprising: Pregnant Almond (a blissed-out Lauren Ambrose) rolls her eyes at people who make a big deal about sex, while Karen (Kathryn Hahn) flips out over the murder of a fly, worrying over the fate of its “fly babies.” (“You mean maggots?” asks George.) Though it’s George who first falls in love with the place (i.e. he smokes weed), it’s Linda who really drinks the Kool-Aid (technically, hallucinogenic tea). When she climbs a tree saying, “I believe I can fly!” George urges her to think of a different R. Kelly song (“like ‘Trapped in a Closet’.”) After Malin Ackerman’s Eva gently comes on to him, George floats the idea of an open relationship only to watch Linda make good on the arrangement immediately with Elysium’s daffy, Luddite leader, Seth (a Jesus-channeling Theroux).

Aniston, looking slightly pinched and overly tan, fits right in at Elysium with a wardrobe that suddenly consists of ponchos and sundresses, so it’s up to Rudd to own the weirdness of their situation, which he does. His largely improvised pep talk to himself in the mirror before seducing Eva is so creatively vulgar and uncomfortably uncivilized — as he goes further and further with the dick jokes, inventing the icky phrasing “a bowl full of fuck on your boobs,” his accent becomes more and more moonshine-y. There should be an award for keeping a straight face (and, yes, there’s a blooper reel in the credits).

But as Wanderlust, which doesn’t involve all that much wandering, proceeds toward its inevitable conclusion, with Linda realizing she misses steak (Elysium founder [Alan Alda] does, too!) and George trying to avoid ending up like his miserable brother, the energy flags and the hippies end up playing the stooge. Well, except for the nudist (Joe Lo Truglio, whose male member practically costars). Like American Summer, the pleasure is in the casting and the liberties taken by actors themselves. Hahn deserved a bigger part so that she could rival Rudd’s outrageousness, but she made the most of her self-righteous lefty. The send-up of city life rings more true than the near-Jainist attitudes of the intentional community, but then again, their produce did look really fresh, the parties are pretty fun, and micro-lofts are for Weebles.