Have you ever wondered what the former cast of The State are up to? Have I dated myself horribly by even asking that? Well, half of them show up in The State alum David Wain’s new film, Wanderlust, co-written by fellow alum Ken Marino. And at heart, this really feels like another State-cast side project that happens to feature big-name stars. It won’t be to everyone’s taste and it dances back and forth across the funny-uncomfortable line, but it spends enough time funny to make the awkward bits worthwhile.
George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) are a fully-Estes New York City couple, setting down roots by getting a huge mortgage on a “micro-loft” on Christopher Street. Of course, this is just the time for George’s company to collapse and Linda’s latest project — a documentary about endangered antarctic penguins with testicular cancer — to be soundly rejected by HBO. George gets an offer of a crappy job and a place to stay from his brother, Rick (Marino), and his dazed housewife, Marissa (Michaela Watkins), so off they head to the McMansions of Atlanta.
On the way, they attempt to stop in at a bed and breakfast, only to find a commune — excuse me, “intentional community” — called “Elysium” in the wilds of northern Georgia. Naturally, there are no leaders, but it was founded in 1971 by the acid-addled Carvin (Alan Alda) and eight others, whose names Carvin will recite at a moment’s notice. There’s also Seth (Justin Theroux), the resident guru, young couple Almond (Lauren Ambrose) and Rodney (Jordan Peele), nudist Wayne (State alum Joe Lo Truglio), former porn actress Karen (Kathryn Hahn), motherly Kathy (State alum Kerri Kenney-Silver), nubile Eva (Malin Åkerman), and probably more I can’t remember.
George and Linda continue on to Atlanta, but Rick is so awful they quickly scurry back to Elysium. At first, George is more into it, but after Seth takes a liking to Linda and she drinks the Kool-Aid — or, rather, the hallucinogenic tea — she adapts effortlessly while George is left behind. After leading a protest against casino developers looking to plow the community under — which catches the eye of a trio of local TV morning show hosts (Wain and fellow State alums Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black) — Linda is at home, while George is eager to head back to the city.
Rudd returns to his Dinner for Schmucks last-sane-man type after playing the countercultural side himself in Our Idiot Brother, and it speaks volumes that he can pull off both sides of this coin. Aniston dives into her role as a commune-convert with an admirable enthusiasm, and she has more balanced chemistry with Rudd than she has with a co-star since Office Space.
Not everything Wain and Marino try works out — a plot thread about a contested deed seemed a perfect opportunity for George’s city skills to pay off for the community, while the existing resolution feels a bit slapped-on; Rudd’s mirror routine goes on a bit longer than maybe it should have — but plenty of it does. The cast’s talent helps immensely, and many jokes that wouldn’t otherwise land do well; Watkins’ delivery is particularly inspired, and Alda makes playing an aging hippie look easy. It’s this ensemble coming together that makes Wanderlust more than the sum of its parts.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.