Film Review: Wanderlust

It's far from perfect, but this genially satiric take on yuppies thrown into the scarily holistic, vegan universe is determined to give the audience a good time and largely delivers.

If movies were dogs, then Wanderlust would be a Jack Russell terrier, along the lines of the celebrated Uggie, who many seem to agree gave perhaps the most memorable performance of 2011 in The Artist, so eager to please. Linda (Jennifer Aniston) and George (Paul Rudd) are a couple of failed Manhattan yupsters who happen upon Elysium, which is the name of a Georgia hippie commune led by wacko Seth (Justin Theroux). Actually, everyone in the enclave is more than a little off, but what would you expect from a place where there are no doors, therefore allowing no privacy, and everything is shared, including husbands and wives? The couple is gradually seduced by this touchy-feely, anti-materialistic ethos, with the initially skittish Linda probably drinking the Kool-Aid, as she puts it, more heartily than George, who definitely has more trouble letting down his uptight guard.

Directed and co-written by David Wain, Wanderlust has a genial vibe that manages to sustain itself through the highly varied level of jokes with which he barrages the audience. With its sylvan, bucolic setting and eclectically assembled cast of eccentrics, it bears a strong resemblance to Wain’s likeably messy Wet Hot American Summer, as well as such venerable straight guy-meets-counterculture farces as I Love You, Alice B. Toklas. George and Linda share a wacky surname, which along with so much else here seems a tribute to Preston Sturges, but Wain’s comic effect is more improv/loosey-goosey than Sturges’ exquisitely crafted, surprisingly literate scripts, with the end result being more farcically scattershot. That’s okay, though—for every laugh that misses, there’s sure to be a real one to follow closely.

Linda Lavin gets the film off to a rousing start, playing the best NYC yenta-realtor since Sylvia Miles in Wall Street, her crack nasal timing describing a “juicy” micro-loft, which prospective buyer George soon realizes is nothing but a studio. Rudd is in his element, giving one of his best performances, and neatly skates the line between funny and affecting. (His lengthy improv in front of a mirror, trying to psych himself up for an adulterous commune moment with nubile Malin Akerman should be a lot funnier than it is, however.) Aniston has less to do, but also brings her considerable comic technique and innately ingratiating Everywoman quality to wannabe artist Linda. A funny scene has her trying to pitch an earnest documentary about penguins with testicular cancer to a group of particularly venal HBO execs.

Joe Lo Truglio is, literally, a cast standout, often displaying his sizeable junk as Elysium’s resident nudist/would-be novelist. He’s an integral part of producer Judd Apatow’s laudable stated intention to (finally) get some male frontal nudity into his every film. “Reno 911”’s treasurable Kerri Kenney adds her wonderfully brazen effrontery as a nut-job who claims she keeps her uterus in a jar. This outrage is topped by Lauren Ambrose, who gives birth onscreen in one of Apatow’s patented “ew” moments, calculated to make the adolescent boy in all of us chortle and retch. Kathryn Hahn is another member of Elysium’s woozy sisterhood, but seethes, as so many of these crunchy-granola dames do, with an intense anger at funny odds with the place’s strenuously mellow vibe.

Ken Marino has a field day as George’s horrendous racist jerk of a contrastingly successful brother, who’s as full of crap as the porta-potties he makes his big bones with. Michaela Watkins as his understandably alcoholic wife got a huge hand from the preview audience when she roused herself to finally tell him off. Theroux, with his endlessly dated references to VHS and two-way pagers, symbols of the world he left behind and was never updated about, is not as powerfully charismatic as his part calls for, but it’s also true that he has been handed the weakest material. Alan Alda crinkles and beams, as usual, playing the crusty, addle-pated founder of Elysium way back when, and it’s kind of amazing how much mileage Wain gets out of his easy senior moments, constantly repeating the names of his original commune members.