George and Linda (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) are not living the dream but it is, tantalizingly, within reach. They've just bought a "micro-loft" (you'd call it a studio) in the West Village. George is about to bag a promotion. Surely Linda will sell her documentary (about penguins with cancer) to HBO.
Cut to the disillusioned couple in a battered car en route to Atlanta where they plan to crash with George's brother until they regain their financial footing. Instead, these uneasy riders find, and lose, themselves at an "intentional community" (you'd call it a commune) called Elysium.
This countercultural Brigadoon populated by shaggy square pegs and passive-aggressive druggies is the proving ground for their relationship in Wanderlust, David Wain's riotous, raunchy, and more than a little raggedy showcase for Rudd's improv genius and Aniston's airy groundedness. He is gut-busting funny, she gently ticklish - ideal comic rapport.
(Rudd and Aniston have worked together before, wonderfully, as the straight girl and her gay crush in The Object of My Affection. They have chemistry. Not to mention biology and physics.)
Like Albert Brooks' similarly themed Lost in America, Wanderlust is less a forward-moving story than a string of self-contained scenes, variations on the theme of the American dream.
Is their postage-stamp-sized apartment in New York, where no matter their achievement they never feel successful enough, George and Linda's idea of fulfillment? Is it the Atlanta McMansion of George's brother, Rick (Ken Marino), which resembles a showroom for products advertised in Skymall magazine? Is it Elysium, the orchard by the lake, where hippie graybeards (Alan Alda), preening peacocks (Justin Theroux), and politically correct attack dogs (Kathryn Hahn) live together in an old Victorian without doors or other boundaries?
George and Linda are like Goldilocks. As they sample the alternatives, one seems too confined, the second too materialistic, the third too unstructured. Where do you go in America if you don't want a lifestyle, but a life?
Less interested with actually answering this question than with giving its players opportunities to be hilarious, the screenplay by Wain (Role Models, Wet, Hot American Summer) and Marino is purely functional.
Rudd rises to the occasion, and then some. After the cramped quarters in New York, George is delighted with the elbow room of Elysium, as well as the flirty glances of Eva (Malin Akerman). The pretty blonde reminds him that at no-rules Elysium, the one rule is free love. The (obviously improvised) sequence in which George rehearses before the mirror how he will seduce Eva reduced me to a puddle of giggle.
As Seth in this comic bakeoff, Theroux (writer of Tropic Thunder and Iron Man 2) nearly succeeds in stealing Rudd's comic lightning. Playing a character whose confidence makes George feel more insecure, Seth woos Linda with his virtuoso guitar playing and acrobatic moves.
The way she keeps a serene, straight face as these jokers spin out of control is one of Aniston's many underappreciated gifts. Like Dean Martin, she skillfully ropes in the maverick partner for maximum comic effect. She is the reality principle that makes the surrealistic stunts funnier.
It's an R-rated movie with a fair amount of nudity, a lot of sexual candor, truckloads of unspecified drugs, and more laughs than I've had at the movies in a very long time.