Starring Jennifer Aniston as Linda and Paul Rudd as George. They are a yuppy couple in New York, she sells bad advertising ideas, and he works for a company who have just sacked him. George decides to go to Atlanta to work for his brother Rick. On the way they come across a hippy ‘commune’ like a more benign version of the one in the recent Martha film. The leaders of the group are Alan Alda, as an elderly ‘hippy’, and Justin Theroux who plays Seth, it’s the same role played by John Hawkes in the Martha film. These people are naturists and other types of ‘new agers’. Then George and Aniston go to his brother’s hideous house of affluent squalor, the couple reject it and return to the ‘commune’. Then George wants to sell out the commune to land developers, but does he get his come-uppance? Maybe everybody lives happily ever after……
Considering Jennifer Aniston is in this film, it’s surprisingly funny. The jokes are bawdy and the timing is pretty good. Faced with the prospect of ‘free love’ with a sexy blonde, hippy George goes through would-be erotic provocations in the mirror, it should be embarrassing but is mildly funny. Judd Apatow is into this kind of humour in his other movies. This view of ‘hippies’ as comic relief is a welcome change from the Charles Manson psycho brigade. Wanderlust works effectively as satire on those cringe making sixties and seventies cults that incited the freedom to be unembarrassed by obsessive compulsive fetishes. These people don’t clap, instead they rub their fingers together. Their supposed challenge to the social conventions represented by Aniston and George are of course an alternative orthodoxy of enforced quirkiness, all expressed with that breathy sincerity which Americans can turn into real comedy. The bearded young leader Seth is the usual macho threat behind the mask of new age pomposity, he transcends mere smugness.
Wanderlust like other movies of its kind, squanders the opportunity to subvert our everyday values, rather in making the hippies look sanctimonious it endorses the values of middle class materialism since these are at least honest. There are a couple of hilarious scenes in which Aniston and Rudd hallucinate conversations with a fly and people get all Dali-distorted. There is a nudist who aspires to write the great novel, and of course this Woody Allen type nerd must have a happy ending. My generation watched Alan Alda playing liberal decency in the TV series MASH, he played the Catch 22 type hero hating the brutality of war. Ever since, Alda has played the avuncular liberal house pet, always to be relied on for being sentimentally right on. In Wonderlust he keeps reminiscing about the commune which he set up in 1971, and he is of course decent, the pleading motor-mouth asking you to take him on face value. He’s not funny, though he tries hard to be.