Like the meandering characters of Wanderlust, an occasionally raunchy and sometimes endearing comedy directed by David Wain and influenced by Judd Apatow, the story ambles along with no particular meaning, simultaneously mocking and embracing various ideas on how to best live on this planet.
Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston are George and Linda, two yuppie New Yorkers caught up in city life, struggling to find work, lowering their standard of living (see: micro-loft), and searching for some meaning.
Fleeing to Atlanta to live with and work for George’s brother, the wayward couple stumbles upon Elysium, a free-love commune where the two are warmly greeted and held up for a night to rest and celebration during their journey south. There they smoke pot, go skinny dipping, and sing and dance alongside the loveable residents. Leaving, albeit reluctantly, they return soon thereafter once the banality and absurdity of a suburban life defined by careerism sets in.
The characters at Elysium are the typical not-so typical cast one with an urban (Hollywood) perspective would expect of hippies. There is the spiritual leader, a bearded, shirtless Justin Theroux who gesticulates wildly and makes love, with contact or without; there is the interracial couple with baby on the way; the nudist wine-maker and writer; a pair of odd-ball women with sailor tongues; and Malin Ackerman, a woman of stunning beauty who is perfectly at peace with nature.
They all play to preconceived notions of people who would live in such a place, doing drugs, hallucinating, and protesting invasion on their land by suited businessmen. The vulgarity and attempts at shock are done well, but seem to go on for too long, evolving from awkward laughter to discomfort.
Rudd has some funny moments, in particular when he tries to gear himself up for his first free love experience, but it is the supporting members who offer the greatest laughs. Alan Alda is charming and perhaps the least hyperbolic character as the elderly founder of Elysium occasionally rattled by past acid trips. Michaela Watkins as the desperate Atlanta housewife makes subtle joke after subtle joke bemoaning her existence with the bombastic and ultra-suburban dad of Ken Marino (co-writer with Wain).
Jordon Peele is the least cringe-worthy member of the commune, and does well to work with a very long set-up for a gag. And comedian Todd Barry, with his recognizable face and dead-pan delivery, delights for just a few brief moments as one of Rudd’s coworkers.
Sadly Jennifer Aniston is once more playing Jennifer Aniston. Where she gave a surprising and enjoyable performance in Horrible Bosses, here she has diverted back to the same slightly emotional, slightly open-minded, slightly ditzy character for which she has become known.
There is no message to the movie of particular importance, but there doesn’t need to be. Problems arise only to offer a chance at more jokes. When the movie seems to be about the encroachment of a casino on the land and the resolve of the tenants, it is not. When it seems to be about free love, it is not. When it seems to be about seeking meaning through drastic change in your life, it is not.
There is nothing specific, but general, and that’s fine: Wanderlust is about freedom of expression, being honest, and caring about those around you. And penis jokes.