In the beginning of the comedy Wanderlust, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are struggling to fulfill the New York dream of owning property. While Linda keeps switching professions in search of her true passion, George exhausts himself at a job he hates in order to support her and save enough money so they can buy a shoebox of a studio apartment in the desirable Upper West Side.
But when Linda's latest project falls, George loses his job, and their apartment plummets in value, the couple is forced to drive to Atlanta and move in with George's older brother, Rick (co-writer Ken Marino). But after seeing that even a sprawling suburban mansion hasn't brought Rick and his numbed wife (Michaela Watkins) happiness, George and Linda decide to move to a hippie commune called Elysium they stumbled upon on their way to Atlanta, hoping that a less rushed, less materialistic, more interconnected life might provide the sense of fulfillment that's eluded them. Watch the trailer for Wanderlust below.
Director/co-writer David Wain is one of the creators of the influential sketch comedy group The State and was a writer on MADtv, and Wanderlust's commune is populated with plenty of familiar faces from the worlds of sketch and TV comedy. Predictably, most of the jokes in Wanderlust come from mocking various hippy stereotypes -- the nudist (Joe Lo Truglio), the free love hottie (Malin Ackerman), the proud interracial couple (Lauren Ambrose and Jordan Peele), the lusty new-age guru (Justin Theroux), the memory-deficient older hippy (Alan Alda), the militant hippy (Kathryn Hahn), and the overall weirdo hippy (Kerri Kinney). Hallucinogens are taken, nudity is flaunted, half-baked new-age philosophy is spouted, and ideals like non-violence and the rejection of personal space and possessions are taken to extremes.
But Wain and his talented cast of comedy veterans know where the funny is and maintain a healthy mix of sight gags, clever writing, uncomfortably drawn-out moments, and plenty of improvising (outtakes of which can be seen during the closing credits). There's a sweetness to the characters, where all of them have their strengths and flaws, and the familiarity among the actors helps Elysium feel more like a real community. Rudd is as likably awkward as ever, and while Aniston has gotten a lot of criticism for her recent films, Wanderlust has the type of role she excels at -- i.e. smaller ones where she can play off and react to more actors and doesn't have to carry the whole film.
There have been plenty of movies about city slickers who gain humility and learn what life is really about after spending time with honest countryfolk, but Wanderlust is smarter than that. The citizens of Elysium aren't saints, clowns, or noble savages, but simply misfits who have coalesced around Elysium's way of life, which clearly isn't for everyone. And there's something relatable about George and Linda's decision to move to Elysium, especially in light of the economic crash, which caused so many Americans to question the "earn, consume, repeat" formula for happiness we've been sold on. Combine that with America's newfound affection for local/organic food, artisanal goods, yoga, and meditation, as well as concern for the environment, and moving to a simpler life doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
But boundaries and interpersonal messiness persist, and Wanderlust thankfully avoids claiming that we would all be better off if the world was more like Elysium. The Wanderlust that George and Linda feel isn't an urge to travel, but a restlessness that comes from devoting too much of one's time to the wrong priorities. Their journey isn't to find a place in the world that has all the answers, but to find something they care about as much as Elysium's band of hippies care about the world they've created for themselves.