By JAMES DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Jennifer Aniston and Paul Rudd trade city life for country comforts in this sweetly silly comedy, but their Green Acres is a retro-60s Georgia commune called Elysium. While a lot of the humor is “look at those crazy hippies” vintage, the cast of characters is so likable that “Wanderlust” is a trip you’ll want to take.
As spouses Linda and George, Aniston and Rudd are merry Manhattanites who have just bought a too-expensive studio apartment advertised as a “micro-loft.” Then horrified HBO execs reject Linda’s ridiculously depressing documentary about seals with testicular cancer on the same day that George’s employer gets shut down by the feds.
Broke and without any New York prospects, they pack everything in their car and head south to stay with George’s obnoxious brother in Atlanta. The montage of their journey’s first day, which goes from singalongs to insults to shouting, will resonate with anyone who has taken an extended road trip.
They make an overnight stop at a bed-and-breakfast whose sign promises “Dreams Dispensed Daily, Bring Your Own Container.” Elysium turns out to be a throwback summer-of-love commune — or, as absurdly sincere leader-guru-love god Seth (Justin Theroux) calls it, an “intentional community.” Initially resistant, Linda and George end up having such a great night partying with the place’s pleasantly addled permanent residents that it’s hard for them to leave the next morning.
Life with George’s relentlessly sarcastic brother Rick (played by screenplay co-writer Ken Marino) at his mega-materialistic mini-mansion isn’t nearly as fulfilling. His permanently plastered wife Marisa (Michaela Watkins) lives by the mantra “if you smile all the time, you can trick your brain into thinking you’re happy.” Rick sets George up with a dismal data-entry job, but after hearing one condescending joke too many George and Linda return to Elysium to see if they can fit in full time.
Many of the commune’s appealing oddballs are counter-culture archetypes dating back to the LBJ era, but they are played with more affection than irony. Seth, a bearded Mel Gibson lookalike that Linda says “smells like walnuts and suede,” carries a lamb across his shoulders and plays killer acoustic guitar. Sunnily blond free-love proponent Eva (Malin Akerman) is fetchingly forthright, nudist winemaker Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio) is nerdily needy and radiantly pregnant earth-goddess Almond (Lauren Ambrose) blithely gives birth during a front-porch chat. Somewhat befuddled Carvin (Alan Alda), the authority-challenging owner of Elysium since 1971, is dead set against developers who want to turn the property into a casino resort.
Although producer Judd Apatow is known for crass comedies such as “Get Him to the Greek,” “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Wanderlust” only goes super-crude when George practices some outrageously profane pillow talk in front of a mirror and later tries using it on Eva. Those sophomoric scenes are not only inappropriately smutty but inconsistent with George’s character.
Otherwise, director/co-writer David Wain (who also directed Rudd in 2008’s “Role Models,” 2007’s “The Ten” and 2001’s “Wet Hot American Summer”) and co-writer Marino keep things goofy but good-natured. Rudd and Aniston make a cute couple who come to appreciate the simple pleasures of sex, drugs and doorless bathrooms. Linda’s psychedelic trip after she drinks some special tea is amusingly surreal, and George’s efforts to go with the flow are fish-out-of-water funny.
Bloopers appear at the beginning of the credits, but be sure to stay until the very end to see a short bonus scene that’s good for one last laugh.[Rating: 3.5 stars]