Like a hybrid of the vacuous hippies and cold-blooded rich folk it depicts, Wanderlust offers whacked-out comedy within the stuffy confines of a timid plot.
Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston star as George and Linda, a Manhattan couple who are forced to leave their micro-loft when George loses his job and HBO declines to pick up Linda’s depressing documentary about a penguin with testicular cancer. The pair pack up their belongings and head for Atlanta, where George’s rich, smug brother Rick (Ken Marino) awaits them.
In just over a day, George and Linda go from spending the night at a commune in North Georgia to arriving at Paul’s McMansion. Unlike his affable brother, Rick is an unlikable boor who never passes up an opportunity to lecture George about his failings. For Rick, who sustains his upper-middle-class lifestyle by renting out portable toilets to construction companies, loving one’s job doesn’t factor into the equation of success.
After George gets fed up with Rick’s arrogance, the couple pack up and return to the commune, where they decide to live amongst a self-styled messiah named Seth (Justin Theroux); a wine-making nudist (Joe Lo Truglio); and various hippie-dippie types who are less enlightened than stoned into apathy.
Just as Linda warms up to the eclectic community, George becomes increasingly disenchanted and annoyed with the complete lack of privacy, casual disregard for personal property and Seth’s leering ways.
Marino and director David Wain, alumni of the 1990s MTV sketch comedy show The State, scripted Wanderlust as a series of comic set pieces in need of a purpose. They conjure up a few funny moments thanks to Rudd and Aniston’s sense of comedy, but the storytelling is ham-handed. (Other State veterans show up, including Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter, who briefly appear as smarmy TV news hosts in a needless, unfunny scene.)
Instead of having something interesting and funny to say about materialism or capitalism, Wanderlust shortchanges the counter-culture and the straights, meandering toward a predictable ending that feels less like a personal growth and more like splitting the difference.