For a one-joke premise, “Wanderlust” is a frequently silly, offbeat, and funny comedy with a little soul-searching truth underneath all the jokes. It’s like an over-the-top “Saturday Night Live” sketch stretched to feature length, so if you accept it as that, it’ll work for you. If you take it more seriously than it’s taking itself, then it won’t work for you. Directed by David Wain, one of the creators of the sketch-comedy troupe TV series called The State, “Wanderlust” wouldn’t be a Wain comedy without Paul Rudd, a very talented ensemble, and an absurdist brand of sketch comedy at its roots. What with his first time out in 2001’s curiously flat “Wet Hot American Summer,” then 2007’s hit-and-miss “The Ten” and 2008’s often hilarious and amiably irresponsible “Role Models,” Wain’s latest fits right in.
Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are paired up as New York marrieds George and Linda. He’s an office drone at a financial firm and she’s a dabbler who’s just finished a documentary film about penguins with testicular cancer. They reluctantly splurge on a “micro-loft” (or, a cramped, overpriced studio apartment) in the West Village. Immediately after they move in, George’s company goes under and her hard-sell project falls through with HBO. This forces them to sell their apartment and hightail it to Atlanta to stay in the McMansion of George’s idiot blowhard of a brother, Rick (Ken Marino), and his depressed, boozy wife, Marissa (Michaela Watkins), until they get back on their feet. Their stay doesn’t last, and en route the couple stumbles upon a commune called Elysium, full of peace-preachin’ hippies with a “free love” motto, have an optional dress code, and don’t believe in the privacy of doors. Sick of the city rat race, George and Linda decide to stay in the carefree environment and lifestyle.
Written by Wain and co-star Marino, “Wanderlust” is edgier and less conventional than most big-studio R-rated comedies. Does it pretend to be more than a wacky fish-out-of-water romp? Not really, but it does get the timely socio-economic portrayal right. George and Linda react to this new, unorthodox lifestyle in different ways, which soon puts a damper on their marriage.
Rudd and Aniston have been charming before as gay and straight best friends in 1998’s “The Object of My Affection” and as frequent co-stars on TV’s “Friends.” Here, it’s not much of a hard pill to swallow that they’re a married couple. Rudd mostly does his “thing” as the straight man, and Aniston is her likable, pretty self without playing Linda for too many laughs (see the actress go all out in “Horrible Bosses”). There’s so much press fuss about Aniston giving a nude scene, which is blurred out anyway, but frankly, it’s not a big deal. Even if George becomes a bit of a tightly wound doofus, Rudd’s great flair for ad-libbing hits. Take one scene for instance, where he gives himself a self-esteem booster about his penis in the mirror before a sexual encounter with polygamous Eva (Malin Akerman). It’s played out to awkward length (and even shows up in the outtakes). His hallucination of a giant fly, which he swatted and killed, is a rather inspired gag. Aniston gets her turn to “fly,” when she takes a strong sip of Truth Circle tea that causes her to have trippy hallucinations.
The supporting cast of TV’s The State, Reno 911!, and Children’s Hospital as the hippy-dippy Elysium members are all game. Justin Theroux, seductive even under lots of Christ-like hair and beard, is hilarious as the group’s shaman Seth, who’s about two decades behind on the latest technology. Alan Alda is also a standout as burnt-out founder Carvin, who wheels around in a wheelchair. Invaluable female comediennes Kerri Kenney-Silver, Kathryn Hahn, and Lauren Ambrose get to shine, too, respectively, trying to make jokes as the den mother, spouting out whatever comes to her mind as an ex-porn star-turned-hippie, and being all calm smiles as a pregnant flower child. Joe Lo Truglio is totally on-board to show a lot of prosthetic penis as the commune’s nudist who aspires to be a novelist. The hippies are almost more grounded in reality than Marino’s Rick, who’s such a cartoonish, obnoxious prick. As the self-medicated Marissa who could be a “Real Housewife of Atlanta,” Watkins can handle a one-liner with an acerbic sharpness. Even Linda Lavin’s dry delivery makes a bawdy line come off realtor-like as George and Linda’s realtor. Finally, Ray Liotta, or at least the use of him for a late-film gag, is a hoot.
The story conflictâ€”dealing with a casino being developed on the Elysium landâ€”fizzles out by the end. But where it really counts and matters, “Wanderlust” delivers a consistent cheerfulness and loopiness, and occasionally some outright lunacy. Just don’t expect anything too deep.
98 min., rated R.