Whether you choose to interpret Wanderlust as just another David Wain (Role Models, Children’s Hospital) comedy profuse with quirky characters and jubilant silliness, or as the next in an endless litany of mediocre Jennifer Aniston rom-coms, is entirely up to you. After all, the movie is both of these things, which is not necessarily a positive.
George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are the modern version of “barely making it” in New York City, meaning George has a high-paying office job and Linda is a dilettante with current aspirations in (what else?) filmmaking. They plunk down an exorbitant wad of dough for a “microloft” in the West Village only to have their lives jerked out from under them the following day. This forces them to downwardly relocate their lifestyle by packing up the micro-family truckster and heading down to Georgia, where George’s obnoxious suburbanite brother Rick (Ken Marino, who also co-wrote the film with Wain) offers them work and shelter.
Along the way, they stumble upon Elysium, a commune of hippies disguised as a bed and breakfast, and they spend one glorious, bohemian night in Nirvana before continuing on their way. Life in suburbia, Linda and George soon find out, pales in comparison, as Brother Rick manages to drive them from the loving family fold in the course of a single day, sending them running back to the commune to escape their lives.
Though Elysium is laughably misplaced in the Georgia mountains (northeastern Georgia is NOT well known for its tolerance of alternative communities), it is populated by your generic list of eccentrics: nudists, vegans, aging first-generation hippies, militant feminists and neo-hippie modern burnouts. Basically, the commune is filled with exactly the sort people Hollywood believe you would expect to find in a commune. Drugs are taken, didgeridoos are played, free love is proffered, and in a stunning piece of lazy writing, evil bankers want to build a casino on the land! Basically, the plot is every ‘80s straight-to-video Summer Camp Comedy ever made.
Alan Alda plays…well…what Alan Alda always plays: a pleasant, humorous relic from the 60’s, spending equal amounts of time putzing around the grounds on a Rascal Scooter and coping with LSD-induced brain damage. Aniston’s real-life beau, Justin Theroux, plays a David Koresh-like leader whose concept of modernity is as tenuous as the threads holding the movie together. Role Models’ Joe Lo Truglio steals every scene in which he appears, and while his character Wayne is genuinely amusing and well-acted, his distinction in Wanderlust is more of the priapic variety.
The movie teeters on the rails more often than not, and is saved from disaster only by Rudd’s innate likability. His expert ability to deliver the most outlandish lines while maintaining character and pace leaves you gasping for breath at the end of more than one scene. Aniston’s performance is solid if not particularly memorable, and her charm keeps the audience from hating what is essentially a callow character that manages to create about ninety-five percent of the misadventures the couple endures.
In the end, Wanderlust fails because there is nothing exciting or new here. We’ve seen this movie in every possible iteration since the birth of this humdrum genre in the mid-‘70s. One saving grace is a refreshingly disturbing turn away from the physically flawless, T&A nudist, and her replaced by dozens of middle-aged, flabby naked people, who are prone to running directly toward the camera in slow motion. I promise you, this scene will stick with you long after the particulars of Wanderlust have faded from memory.