Trust falls? Rap sessions? Giggle weed? I don’t know what tools of the trade Paul Rudd and director David Wain share to dream up the kind of inspired nutso stuff Rudd has done in smart-funny-raunchy winners like Wet Hot American Summer and Role Models. But whatever it is, the two are in a groove — and backed up by some blissed-out creative co-conspirators — in Wanderlust.
The setup is sturdy. Rudd and costar Jennifer Aniston play George and Linda, sharp-edged Manhattanites who can barely afford their tiny living quarters — known as a “micro-loft,” in Realtor-speak — even when George brings home a salary from his hated corporate job. (Linda, still looking for her career métier, fails to sell HBO on a super-depressing documentary about penguins with cancer.) Then George loses that hated job. The broke couple needs to flee NYC. So they hit the road, resigned to accepting shelter and abuse from George’s gloriously obnoxious “successful” brother down in Atlanta, a prize pig played to the snout by Wanderlust coscreenwriter/producer and fellow Wain regular Ken Marino (Role Models). But somewhere on the road south, George and Linda stumble upon a kind of hippie-dippy Brigadoon, a past-its-prime Shangri-la, an anachronistic macraméd commune called Elysium. The place preaches peace and free love and beverages made of twigs, and is populated by crackpots just charismatic enough to seduce a pair of BlackBerry addicts like George and Linda. None is more appealing — and full of crap — than the alpha male called Seth, played with goofy gusto by Justin Theroux.
What happens in Elysium doesn’t stay in Elysium: The alternative lifestyle begins to change the personality DNA of our essentially straight-arrow visitors. And that’s exactly the sweet spot where Wain-ian comedy — rooted in craziness that breaches the walls of “normal” — lets Rudd shine. The actor is so clean-cut cute, yet so fearlessly capable of rolling in happy raunch. Actually, every actor who gets the joke shines, even when the story occasionally bumbles and bobbles its momentum. (Ah, the shackles of the ho-hum happy romantic ending.) It’s a thrill to see sexy Malin Akerman (The Proposal), Six Feet Under’s peachy Lauren Ambrose, priceless Kathryn Hahn (so memorable an adversary for Rudd in Our Idiot Brother), and elder statesman Alan Alda bond over hippie clichés. And, no small thing, it’s a pleasure to see Aniston thrive in her comedy zone, secure in the knowledge that for every inch of propriety she’s willing to cede, Paul Rudd is ready to get 10 times as crazy for a grateful nation. A-