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Communal comedy with Wanderlust'

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Comedy offers great performances, plenty of laughs

Screen chemistry is a tricky thing. In any sort of cinematic relationship - especially a romantic one - your leads have to have the proper dynamic between them. They are the foundation from which the rest of the movie builds; without a strong, engaging relationship in that spot, everything else falls apart.

And just because the actors involved are charismatically gifted individually does not mean that their on-screen pairing is going to work. It's all about the mixture.

In the new film 'Wanderlust,' we have two of those charismatic individuals coming together. Paul Rudd ('Our Idiot Brother') and Jennifer Aniston ('Horrible Bosses') are both engaging on-screen, albeit in different ways. Would their offsetting energies work together or clash? What if the film was co-written by sketch comedy group The State alumni David Wain and Ken Marino (and directed by Wain to boot)?

For the most part, it works.

Rudd and Aniston are George and Linda, a couple living in New York City and struggling to find happiness. However, their opportunities dry up and they're forced to flee the city. They wind up heading to Atlanta, where George got a job working for his abrasive brother Rick (Ken Marino, 'Role Models'). En route, the pair stumbles upon Elysium, an idealistic commune in the middle of nowhere.

They meet Seth (Justin Theroux, 'Your Highness'), the group's spiritual leader and generally superior d-bag, and Carvin (Alan Alda, 'Tower Heist'), the last of the original owners of the commune from the 70s. They meet a wide-ranging cast of happy hippies, falling in love with the place a little during their overnight stay.

After a particularly awful time at Rick's, the two decide on impulse to make their way back to Elysium and join the community. So they do, and all is well. For a while. Before long, the two have leaped into the commune's anachronistic free-love society with both feet. But while George is having some misgivings, Linda has been swept into the fold - and Seth has her in his sights. Not to mention the developer who's trying to get his hands on Elysium in order to build a casino.

At its heart, 'Wanderlust' is a movie about two people. Rudd is perhaps the most likeable actor in Hollywood today and he's no different here. He can exude a wonderfully quirky awkwardness that shines most brightly in fish-out-of-water situations like this one. Meanwhile, Aniston's girl-next-door charm is also present, though it is muted a bit. The two of them together works nicely, in good times and in bad. In fact, they might be at their best when they are in conflict.

It's the supporting cast that really shines here. Theroux is every inch the smug New Age douche, Alda the perfect hippie burnout archetype. Malin Ackerman ('Couples Retreat') is great as a foxy free lover, while Jo Lo Truglio ('Paul') steals scenes as Wayne the nudist/winemaker/aspiring novelist. And really, there are probably another half a dozen characters with at least one noteworthy moment.

'Wanderlust' isn't perfect - the story is a little light. However, the cast is both immensely talented and clearly invested in making the movie. That combination goes a long way toward overcoming the relatively minor issues with regards to the script. It's filled with moments and scenes whose humor sticks in the memory.

February is usually kind of a wasteland when it comes to theatrical releases. 'Wanderlust' is better than that. Perhaps not a great movie, but a pretty good one - at this time of year, I'll take it.

3 out of 5

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