Just a few short weeks after signing the lease on their dream apartment in New York City, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are leaving it behind, after George's office is raided by the police and HBO passes on Linda's documentary. Professionally adrift and financially unstable, it seems like their only choice is to live with George's horrible brother Rick (Ken Marino) and his wife Marissa (Michaela Watkins), but on the drive down, they stay overnight at a commune called Elysium, and the relaxed vibe calls to them. After a depressing few days, the pair are back at Elysium, ready to embrace the bohemian lifestyle.
The fourth film by director David Wain, Wanderlust both funny and surprisingly flawed. Hardcore fans of Wain's work on "The State" or Wet Hot American Summer might disagree, but I felt Wain's previous film, Role Models, struck a perfect balance between accessible and unusual, building extreme comic characters around a strong, straightforward story. Wanderlust lacks that backbone, content to just hang out in the woods with a bunch of wacky characters.
In some movies, that might have been enough, except the wacky characters Wain and his cast offer up here aren't their best work. Almost all of the commune members, from Kerri Kenney-Silver's blissful den mother down to Joe Lo Truglio's novel-writing nudist, form a pretty predictable comic portrait of boundary-free, spiritually optimistic living. Even Alan Alda is pretty much wasted as the commune's original founder; only a perpetually angry Kathryn Hahn manages to create something memorably unusual. Frankly, many of the fringe characters from "normal" living make more of an impression, like Rick and Marissa; Todd Barry in a short cameo as one of Rudd's douchey co-workers; and the complete "Stella" lineup of Wain, Michael Showalter, and Michael Ian Black as a trio of innuendo-happy newscasters.
However, Wain has Rudd to fall back on, and Rudd's willingness to perform at a comic volume anywhere from 1 to 25 is pretty much enough to prop up the film all by itself. The number of performers willing to even consider the line readings Rudd gives in a pivotal scene where George is psyching himself up in the mirror must be awfully short, but the actor jumps into it with glee. Aniston also seems pretty game for the film's weirder material, but the script is sadly short on things for Linda to do. As their stay at Elysium goes on, George starts to sense he's losing Linda to Seth (Justin Theroux), the charismatic leader of the group, but Theroux's performance feels like a warmed-over version of the character he played in Wain's earlier film The Ten, and Linda's motivation is not as clear-cut as it needs to be. The film keeps telling us Linda is more happy at Elysium, but we're shown more of George's frustration than Linda actually enjoying anything.
Don't get the wrong idea. Wanderlust is frequently hilarious, thanks in no small part to a stable of funny people who are more than comfortable working with one another. At the same time, it's a bunch of ideas in search of a story. It's never clear enough what exactly George and Linda are missing before Elysium, what they get out of being there, and the balance they've struck afterward, and as a result, Wanderlust is a comedic patchwork quilt of whims and improvisation that reflects the community it's centered on.
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