“Wanderlust” is the ultimate crowd-pleaser — a critically accepted broad comedy. The geniuses behind “Wanderlust” are the sketch comedians of MTV’s “The State,” from comedy’s salad days of 1993. The troupe of actors has been involved in so many side projects since that even if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you know what I’m talking about: “Reno 911,” “Stella,” most recently, Showtime’s brilliant-but-canceled “Party Down,” and last seen in full force in the perennial college-party hit, “Wet Hot American Summer.” “Wanderlust” was penned by Ken Marino (Ron Donald on “Party Down”) and David Wain (who also directs, as he did with “Wet Hot”), “State” cast members and vastly experienced comedians. Both also appear in the movie.
In a refreshing turn of events, diehard Manhattanites George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) go bust in the big city, after buying an overpriced “microloft” around the time George loses his job at a shady finance firm. They’re reduced to the humiliating fate of moving in with George’s obnoxious port-a-potty entrepreneur brother, Rick (Marino at his meat-headed best), who lives in a McManse in suburban Atlanta. On the way down, however, the couple gets sidetracked at a hippie-owned B&B called Elysium, where charismatic Seth (Justin Theroux) helms a group of non-violent sexy and wacky didgeridoo-blowing vegans. George and Linda partake in a convivial, life-affirming night of partying that seriously hampers their desire to stay with Rick and his cocktail-medicated wife, Marissa (Groundlings member Michaela Watkins).
Utterly disgusted with Rick’s suburban hell, George and Linda decide to return to Elysium on a whim. At George’s insistence, they agree to stay for two weeks and see how they might acclimate to the communal — er, “intentional community” — culture. The first few montages of organic farm life are blissful. Linda milks goats and does yoga in the woods with Seth, while George shovels cow manure and receives a group reprimand for swatting a fly. Sure, there are rampant new-agey lampoons — almost everyone is a space cadet or loony, they over-pronounce words borrowed from other languages (as in “Miami”) and do primal aggression exercises. Linda, feeling more confident than ever before, buys it wholesale as George grows further ostracized from the community. When it becomes clear that Seth has designs on Linda, George becomes fed up and leaves the farm all together.
In many ways, “Wanderlust” is kind of the flip side of the widely accepted new-age enthusiasm found in stuff like “Eat Pray Love.” The sarcasm is there, but so is the inevitable truth that participating in those kinds of activities (essentially, throwing yourself completely out of your comfort zone) is good for self-discovery and development. What it also teaches, however, is that turds come in every color of the rainbow, even in supposedly benevolent wackadoo hippie communes.
In short, what shouldn’t work, in fact, does, and it’s entirely due to a strong, low-gimmick script, about likable late-thirtysomethings (the new twentysomethings, after all) who have to find themselves again to be happy. And, naturally, it doesn’t hurt that every actor appears to be a gifted comedian working with some pretty apt material. The film owes production support to comedy A-lister Judd Apatow, too.