“Wanderlust” relies on you believing in Paul Rudd, playing George, a financial analyst of some kind, and in Aniston, playing Linda, a children’s book illustrator turned ice cream maker turned struggling documentary director. You need to wholeheartedly accept them individually—each somewhat irresponsible adults—and together—as two somewhat irresponsible adults. Rudd, who so often plays a man trapped in a kind of childhood innoence, is easier to get behind here. Aniston, however, remains pretty and tanned and toned even when living on this hippie land in the middle of nowhere, Georgia. She doesn’t give herself over to her character in “Wanderlust,” and her reluctance serves as our barrier.
George and Linda are married New Yorkers who decide to take the plunge into buying property, thinking rather abruptly that “We’re not kids anymore” and it’s time to put down roots. So they spend all their savings (presumably) on a “micro-loft” apartment in the West Village, with a fold-up bed and barely enough space for their couch, and fall asleep immediately every night while spending all day maniacally drinking lattes and checking their Blackberrys. But George’s expected bonus falls through when the finance company he works for gets busted by the FBI, and Linda’s hopes for her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer are summarily doused when HBO rejects her piece. Jobless and with no money left, they decide to sell their apartment—which they now realize, of course, is just a pitiful studio—and stay with George’s overbearingly racist and sexist older brother Rick (Ken Marino) in his palatial home in Atlanta, Ga.
On the way there, however, frustrated with their road trip and each other, George and Linda stumble upon Elysium, a hippie commune in the Georgia wilderness. First they’re terrified by Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio), the nudist running toward them, but eventually they decide to spend the night—sparking off one long, drug-fueled trip that makes George and Linda question what they’ve been doing with their lives. As they fumble toward deciding whether they want to rejoin the real world, their stressed relationship is further manipulated by Seth (Justin Theroux), the commune’s kind-of leader whose attraction to Linda is clear. He one-ups George at every opportunity—showing off amazing guitar solo skills, sparring with developers who come to barter with commune owner Carvin (Alan Alda) over the land they want to build a casino on—and with the commune stressing free love as a requirement of all members, you know there’s trouble ahead.
Much of the focus here is on Rudd, Aniston, and Theroux, and for the most part the former comes out on top. Aniston is fine, but there’s a barrier between her and Linda: The actress always comes out looking gorgeous and immaculate, and in a film that has her accepting nature and becoming more of a free spirit, shouldn’t there have been more, you know, freedom? Instead, new commune Linda just looks like old Manhattan Linda, this time wearing a poncho. The character development isn’t there. And Theroux never really makes Seth his own character, instead doing a weird mish-mash of the Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson roles from “Zoolander,” with an impression of the film’s Blue Steel face and Stiller’s stilted speaking cadence. Theroux and Aniston fell in love during this film, so maybe they were busy doing that instead of getting into their roles? Shrug. Who knows.
Rudd, however, is the key that makes “Wanderlust” work. Whether he’s pumping himself up for free love by dirty-talking into a mirror, spouting off inane vulgarities that make zero sense but sound hilarious, or making sarcastic faces at the others’ drug-fueled antics, Rudd does his whole Everyman-stuck-in-an-absurd-situation thing quite well. And the film really benefits from his interactions with supporting players like Lo Truglio, and Lauren Ambrose and Jordan Peele as Almond and Rodney, respectively, an interracial couple living at the commune. As the flighty, whispery Almond who just doesn’t get why George wouldn’t want to be around for her labor, Ambrose adds a nice dash of silly humor, while Peele does well as the unfazed Rodney, who shows up for conversations whenever George wants to go to the bathroom. That’s the problem with no doors, man.
Rudd can’t carry the entire film on his own, though, and “Wanderlust” suffers when it divides up its characters and tries to develop too many people at once. Yet the end wraps up pretty magnificently, even with its eye-roll-inducing mantra of “You gotta do what’s right for you.” “Wanderlust” clearly isn’t going for intensely deep spiritual depth, but for a collection of jokes about drug use and stilted dreams, it gets a lot right.