"There's no one way to live our lives," hopes the displaced, adrift couple at the center of Wanderlust. Shopping between the prefab identity options available to them — squeezed, stressed urban professionalism; suburban McMansion soul death; rural counterculture opting out — George and Linda (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) are looking to find a social model somewhere in America where they can be true to themselves and each other. And though Wanderlust finally laughs off the real discomforting conclusion that it's edging toward, it's gut-busting funny when mocking their hopeless options.
George and Linda are introduced buying a studio apartment in the West Village — the agent insists it's actually a "microloft," but that doesn't make it bigger than a breadbox. George is yoked to an office job, too busy to break stride when rolled onto the hood of a taxi at a crosswalk; Linda is shopping around her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer, her dozenth attempted career in the course of their marriage.
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When George loses his job, they're sent packing. They head out on a squabbling road trip to a fallback paycheck in Atlanta with George's boorish, boastful brother, Rick (Ken Marino). The couple pulls off at the Elysium Bed & Breakfast, which turns out to be a commune. After initial quibbles, George and Linda spend a sublimely relaxing, pot-scented, holistically healthy night at the B&B, which comes to look all the better in contrast to the existence they find at Rick's — he's the kind of guy who puts air quotes around apologize, a domestic tyrant clearly detested by his family, including a fine Michaela Watkins as his tranquilized, Real Housewife-wannabe partner, leaking indiscreet references to her misery. This sends George and Linda running back to Elysium, agreeing on a trial stay before joining for good.
Wanderlust was directed with deceptive looseness by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer, Role Models), who cowrote with Marino, though the script is obviously garnished with improvisation. Big laughs come from just letting scenes run over their appointed time, watching Rick vainly chasing his stolen Escalade on foot past the end of his long block or staying over Rudd's shoulder as he stares into the mirror and tries to pep-talk himself up to an act of liberated infidelity. Wain and Marino were members of a commune of sorts themselves, the mid-'90s MTV sketch troupe the State, whose members have repeatedly scattered and re-formed in subsequent projects. A number of fellow alum round out the supporting cast, including Kerri Kenney-Silver and Joe Lo Truglio as Elysium's resident nudist novelist. (Wain also appears briefly as a newscaster alongside State graduates Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, seeming to parody their unfunny, self-amused interplay from the short-lived Comedy Central show Stella.)
Wanderlust, starring Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Ken Marino, and Justin Theroux. Directed by David Wain. Written by David Wain and Ken Marino. 98 minutes. Rated R.
It's hard to remember a comedy so populated with good character bits. Although it's George who initially votes for Elysium, it's Linda who really gets reeled in. There's something stubbornly pragmatic in George that won't dissolve into proper Utopianism — when Elysium's founder (Alan Alda) imparts the wisdom that "Money buys nothing," George can't walk away from arguing the point that this is true only metaphorically, not literally.
There is no comic lead working who has Rudd's flexibility. Where last year's Our Idiot Brother — in which Rudd played an Elysium-style '60s leftover — used only his intrinsic likability, Wanderlust brings out a lurking peevishness behind his good-natured smile. A really great movie might have followed the implications of that disgust — there's no running away from yourself — but the questing that Wanderlust ultimately retreats into has a conservative, prefab identity of its own: It is, after all, an Apatow production.