Comedy is simple. Create a situation which has humorous possibilities, populate it with interesting/amusing/likeable people, and stir in a few harmless plot twists. Then sit back and enjoy. Most comedies fail to observe these simple rules, by employing the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConoughey and resorting to fart jokes when in doubt.
And while this Judd Appatow-produced movie does have a few detours into cliche territory, I can only say that I laughed regularly, and you can't ask more from a comedy. This may say more about my character than anything else, but I don't care.
Linda (Jennifer Aniston) and George (Paul Rudd) are a New York yuppie couple, whose barely-successful lifestyle suddenly unravels, causing them to escape to Atlanta, Georgia where George's brother has offered him a job. En route, they stop off at what they think is a bed and breakfast but turns out to be a hippie commune. They enjoy their night there, move on to George's awful brother, and soon decide that life in a commune is preferable to staying with Rick and his dumb alcoholic wife, Marissa. Back they go, and are soon enrolled with a programme of truth, ayahuasca, free love, vegan food and all round idealistic silliness.
This in turn allows the film to indulge itself with a lot of hippie/New Age jokes, and a good deal of sexual humour, including a naked winegrowing novelist wannabe. There is ageing Alan Alda, founder of the commune who can't remember where he left the deeds to the property, but insists on reciting the names of his co-founders. And there is Seth (Justin Theroux), the visible leader, whose sexual prowess, guitar playing and all round egomania single him out as the obvious bad guy. Plus he's putting the moves on Linda, to which she seems receptive. There is a sketch of a plot about the land being reclaimed by greedy casino-builders, but this occupies very little airtime or energy, simply being a device whereby the truth will out.
I know that it's easy to be snippy and snide about comedies, but the fact is, they're rather like male sexuality before Viagra - you can't fake it. If you laugh, you laugh; if you don't, you don't. Laughing means you find it funny, whether your higher self approves or not. I laughed. I found it funny. And I speak as someone who is essentially in favour of hippie communes, but is not immune to their more ludicrous manifestations. What this film does is to poke fairly gentle fun at their blind spots, as well as making the same point that is contained in Martha Marcy May Marlene - to which this might be a companion piece. The point being that abusive male power, however it appears, is dangerous and abusive; and when it is concealed under the mask of love and community, it is the most abusive of all, as well as the most seductive.
Finally, a word of praise for Rudd and Aniston. I like them both as screen presences. I've always liked Paul Rudd, ever since Clueless, many years ago, and I've come round to Jennifer, because she has a kind of enduring appeal that seems to transcend age, looks and logic. We're not talking comic masterpiece, but if you want to have a good time, and don't mind the occasional (flaccid) penis, you might just enjoy this.
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