Paul Rudd must have a particular fondness for hippies because he seems to love either playing them or playing off them. They make for relatively easy laughs and breezy comedies, similar to Rudd’s performance as the free-spirited moron in last year’s Our Idiot Brother. Hippies are fun, and they make for relatively soft targets for a likable actor like Rudd. Wanderlust, the latest comedy from the Judd Apatow umbrella, has Rudd paired up with a familiar face in Jennifer Aniston. Even though the two haven’t done a movie together since 1998’s The Object of My Affection, they spent plenty of time together on the set of Friends. Their chemistry together is on point, and the bulk of the film’s laughs come between one another. Separately, Wanderlust succumbs to a drowsy script that can’t overcome the slight plot.
George(Rudd) and Linda(Aniston) are a seemingly happy married couple devoted to the idea of setting up their lives in bustling New York City. He’s a businessman of some sort, while she just seems to be drifting from career to career. At this point she wants to be a documentary film maker….about penguins with terminal cancer. It doesn’t go well. But their commitment is strong, and are pushed by a hilariously unscrupulous real estate agent(Linda Lavin!!) into buying a high priced “micro-loft”, which turns out to be a closet sized studio apartment. George almost immediately loses his job, whatever it was, and unable to afford the lifestyle, they find themselves headed to Atlanta to stay with his scummy but successful brother(Ken Marino).
Disaster strikes during the interminable road trip, in the form of a hairy nudist(Joe Lo Truglio) and his floppy man sack chasing them into a freak accident. Forced to stay at the ironically named Elysium Bed & Breakfast, they discover that it’s actually a hippie commune, or as its leader Seth(Justin Theroux) calls it, an “intentional community”. The big city folks quickly fall in love with the relaxed nature and the close-knit bonds forged among the denizens, and after a wild night of drinking, pot smoking, and being treated like beatnik royalty, George and Linda feel they’ve found a new home.
No more stress, no more reliance on technology, and no more barriers.Basically every hippie joke you can think of becomes an instant factor, whether it’s farm animals turning up in the oddest places, wacky acid trips, and shocking infringements on one’s personal space. It’s all stuff you’ve seen before, but Rudd and an excellent supporting cast do their best to make it work. You know from the start that Seth has his eyes on Linda, who is acclimating to the group better than George ever could hope to. You know where it’s going, but Theroux shines as the manliest guy in a town full of pacifists.
Rudd nearly saves the day, however, especially as George’s perceptions of the group begin to shift from enthusiastic follower to caustic observer. Tempted by a free lovin’ sex pot(Malin Akerman), George is willing to give up good food, bathroom privacy, and his favorite local coffee to give the lifestyle a shot. If only Rudd help from a better script, one which wasn’t so devoted to skit show cliches. Too often the film feels razor thin, like screenwriters Ken Marino and director David Wain came up with the idea on the fly to do a hippie movie, but never got past the conceptual stage. Basically, it’s like they just assembled a talented group of comedic heavyweights and said “Have at it”. Not everybody is capable of making chicken salad out of chicken crap the way Rudd can, and unfortunately too many scenes don’t work for that very reason. It’s sad to watch the great Alan Alda wasting away with a one-note bit that is never funny, yet repeated over and over again as if we’ll suddenly change our minds about it. Sometimes that works, but not often.
A look at the trailers for the film show a number of scenes that were apparently left on the cutting room floor, which makes the inclusion of some of the worst jokes utterly confusing. George’s excruciating, profanity-laden attempts to psych himself up for some guilt free sex is a serious low point. It’s only matched by a mother who gives birth to a baby right at George’s feet, then proceeds to lug the placenta around like luggage. Why is this funny?
Nearly all of the offensively lame attempts at humor come in the second half of the film, when it appears that Wain and Co. basically threw in the towel. For the first hour or so, Wanderlust moves at a solid pace, letting it’s two charming leads tell what was a clever fish-out-of-water story. Too bad it all vanishes in a puff of smoke.