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Monday, March 18,2013

Fit to be tie-dyed

Zany 'Wanderlust' finds Manhattanites Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston communing with hippies

by James Sanford

George and Linda Gergenblatt (Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston) leave behind their Manhattan studio apartment — sorry: “microloft” — for a Georgia commune — oops: “intentional community” — in director David Wain’s “Wanderlust,” a fish-out-of-water comedy that manages to be both raunchy and surprisingly sweet-natured. And no, it's not always so genteel in its language.

“When you hear the word ‘commune,’ you think of a bunch of hippies smoking pot and playing guitars,” scoffs Seth (the devilishly funny Justin Theroux), one of the more charismatic residents of Elysium, the rural retreat where George and Linda find shelter after unexpectedly skidding off of the fast track. When the Gergenblatts look around Elysium they see freedom and friendliness and good vibrations — not to mention a lot of hippies smoking pot and playing guitars. So the couple sheds their inhibitions (and their clothes), forsaking Wall Street for Woodstock and the Big Apple for a fruit stand. They’ll soon learn the grass is not always greener in Bohemia, but it’s certainly more potent.

“Wanderlust” is at its most enjoyable when writers Wain and Ken Marino, like their characters, wander away from the beaten path. George and Linda’s bumpy adjustment to the let-it-all-hang-out atmosphere of Elysium (“Dreams dispensed daily: Bring your own container” is the community’s motto) yields many highly amusing episodes, particularly when they try to have a private conversation without a bedroom door, or immerse themselves in such Elysium customs as “primal gesticulating” or outdoor acid trips. Marino and Michaela Watkins, as George’s insufferable blowhard of a brother and insipid sister-in-law (who acknowledges she has “a little bit of a Sky Mall problem” and fantasizes about auditioning for “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”), are hilarious representations of the other side of the spectrum. Alan Alda, Lauren Ambrose, Kathryn Hahn and Malin Akerman each have some choice moments as sincerely spacey Elysium residents.

If the movie's last third doesn't live up to the promise of the first hour, it's because Wain, who hails from MTV's long-gone sketch-comedy show "The State" and Comedy Central's short-lived "Stella," can't bring much conviction to the story's haphazard, hurried finale. It's what anyone in Elysium would instantly recognize as a cop-out, a sell-out or at least a detour to Squaresville.    

But whatever the screenplay's shortcomings, Rudd and Aniston ultimately seal the deal. At this late date, no one needs to be reminded of Rudd's astonishing deftness and way-out wit, but Wain allows the actor a few more chances to do exactly that, most notably in a free-form monologue in which George talks to the mirror, "Taxi Driver"-style, trying to find the right words to woo the local vixen; the more he talks, the worse (and funnier) it becomes.

Rudd's boldness encourages Aniston to exercise her own comic muscles instead of merely meandering through another role. She's livelier and sharper than usual, and the script plays to her strengths when the initially uncertain Linda (a failed documentary filmmaker who brought home a grand total of $800 last year) embraces all things Elysium. Rudd and Aniston did impressive work together in 1998's "The Object of My Affection," and their crackling chemistry can still leave you blissfully buzzed.

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