Occupied Comedy: Marino waxes, Rudd wanes in ‘Wanderlust’

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Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston in Wanderlust.

Wanderlust starts with an idea borrowed from Albert Brooks’ 1986 Lost in America—a yuppie couple responds to career setbacks by embarking on a cross-country journey that tests their mettle. Here, George (Paul Rudd) and Linda (Jennifer Aniston) leave their tiny, expensive Manhattan studio apartment and fall in among a collective of retrograde slackers in an off-the-grid Georgia commune called Elysium.

Where Brooks revealed Reagan-era acquisitiveness (climaxing symbolically in the existential absurdity of Las Vegas), Wanderlust drops metaphysics to oddly parody Clinton/Obama nostalgia about drugs and communes. It also seems like a retread of “it” director David Wain’s Wet Hot American Summer, similarly fully of bland, self-amused in-jokes by inoffensive comic performers who enjoy each other’s company more than any audience will.
But then something unexpected happens: in only a couple of scenes in which George visits his successful older brother Rick (Ken Marino) making money in the potty business and living miserably in Southern middle-class suburbia, the jokiness sharpens and Wanderlust momentarily becomes about something tangible—sibling rivalry, class delusions, marital tension, parental neglect, plus racism and sexism as spiritual fall-backs for pathetically disillusioned Americans.

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