It does not take a lot to hate a hippie. Sure, their carefree attitude is seductive, but then they find something they don’t like about a person and respond with their patented form of passive-aggression. The tolerance and eventual rejection of hippie culture have been covered in movies before, so it’s surprising that Wanderlust still finds a way to make it funny. Directed by Wet Hot American Summer’s David Wain, this comedy is a mainstream update of that summer camp classic, one that still preserves offbeat characters and transgressive dick jokes.
Even though they just bought a “micro-loft” in the West Village, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are in a rut. HBO just rejected Linda’s documentary about penguins with testicular cancer; George’s company is full of white-collar criminals. The couple abandons New York for the Atlanta suburbs, and on the way they stop at commune in northern Georgia. It is led by Seth (Justin Theroux), who is free-spirited, and other like-minded hippies. The night in the commune leaves a strong impression on the married couple. After they try living with George’s brother (Marino), who is an intolerably vulgar asshole, they resolve to try commune life. But as I noted in my opening paragraph, hippie allure is generally short-lived.
Wain and Marino populate the commune with cast members from The State and Children’s Hospital, and everyone seems to be having a genuinely fun time. Their enthusiasm and chemistry are what buoy the movie’s terrific middle section, where George and Linda get to better know their housemates. Joe Lo Truglio, always fearless, is hilarious as a nudist who aspires to write the Great American Novel. Jordan Peele and Malin Akerman, both from Children’s Hospital, are memorable as hippies who violate George’s sense of ownership and monogamy, respectively.
As George, Rudd is content to play the straight man against these caricatures, though he’s also given the token opportunity to revert back into Sex Panther mode. Aniston does not have the same sensibilities as Rudd, although she creates a semi-developed character by simply remaining a good sport. Of course, there’s also the required old hippie, played by Alan Alda, who supplies a running gag and the formulaic conflict a comedy like this requires. But the script does not dwell on plot; instead, the actors have plenty of room to improvise, and their well-honed riffing is how Wain finds success.
There is little that’s new about Wanderlust. The caliber of the actors tells you exactly what you can expect, both in terms of jokes and token weirdness. I doubt this will become a cult classic Wet Hot American Summer, yet there are uncompromising moments of male nudity, the occasional bout of surreal humor, and moments where actors repeated the same unfunny gag until it’s funny again. If anything, Wanderlust proves that Paul Rudd ensemble comedies have become a cottage industry within Hollywood. No matter who is cast alongside him, Rudd and the actors alongside him are funny and diverting in the same exact way. And that’s not a bad thing.