Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paul Rudd – Movies Spotlight – March 2012

Paul Rudd, 42, is one of the best comedic actors working today. Probably best known for his work with Judd Apatow and David Wain, Rudd has recently become a potential comedy A-List leading man. This month he stars in a new film directed by Wain, produced by Apatow and co-starring Jennifer Aniston called Wanderlust. It is about two New Yorkers who leave the rat-race and move to a commune. Rudd has the unique ability to play both the straight-man and the ridiculous character in comedies, and has a strong capacity for drama as well, making him one of the great leading men today (and one of my personal favorites).

Early Career:

Rudd began his career in the early 1990s appearing in a few TV movies and on the shows Wild Oats and Sisters. In 1995, he got his first break taking a supporting, but important, role in Clueless playing Josh – a very likable guy. From there, Rudd got a supporting role in another huge teen hit – Romeo + Juliet, playing Paris. And then came the inevitable romantic comedies – his first paring was with Reese Witherspoon in Overnight Delivery (a film that I actually quite like for what it is). Next, he starred opposite Jennifer Aniston in The Object of My Affection (a film that is getting new life from their pairing in Wanderlust). Both rom-coms are decent to good, but neither was a big hit for Rudd. He got a part in the (terrible) Gen-X ensemble 200 Cigarettes and a small supporting role (that is mostly overlooked) in the Oscar nominated film The Cider House Rules. While Rudd had success in the teen market early in his career, he was not quite connecting as a leading man. Plus, his ability to do both comedy and drama well was actually somewhat working against him as he was not finding as many great film roles coming into the 2000s. And when he did, for example The Shape of Things (which was touted to be a big hit with thought-to-be future A-Listers Rachel Weisz and Gretchen Mol co-starring), the films never quite panned out into box office success (or critical success either). But then two things happened: first, he met David Wain; second, he went back to TV and got a big supporting role on Friends playing Phoebe’s future husband.

Working with David Wain:

In 2001, Rudd got a supporting role in David Wain’s first feature film Wet Hot American Summer (which Rudd steals most of the scenes he is in), a very funny satirical 1980s style summer camp movie (think of something like Meatballs, but totally ridiculous and aware of itself). The project also hooked him up with Michael Showalter, Ken Marino, and Michael Ian Black (and others) from The State (which David Wain also worked on). Leading to parts in The Baxter, Stella, The Ten (Wain’s second feature), Reno 911! and its feature film Reno 911!: Miami, and Wainy Days. Rudd has since become a viable comedic leading man again, and it was Wain who gave him his first big leading comedy role in Role Models. Rudd plays the straight-man to Seann William Scott, but it is Rudd’s dry humor and deep sadness behind his comedic front that makes the film great. The film’s success proved Rudd to be a bankable leading man.

Working with Judd Apatow:

With Friends coming to an end in 2004, Rudd had a chance to reinvent himself in the world of feature films – being known mostly as ‘the nice guy’. This opportunity came in the Judd Apatow produced Adam McKay directed Will Ferrell vehicle Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Rudd is hilarious as Brian Fantana (stealing a few scenes and moments). Next, he took a supporting role in Apatow’s feature directorial debut The 40 Year Old Virgin. Again, Rudd is brilliant (playing the emotionally damaged friend still stuck on a girl who dumped him). Apatow cast him again in his next feature Knocked Up. In a supporting role, Rudd masters the balance between humor and drama playing a husband/father who is not as happy as the situation would seem to otherwise dictate. The film is overall very funny, but Rudd’s character has the most emotional depth. He shows up in cameo roles in the Apatow produced comedies Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, playing John Lennon, and Year One (which is awful), playing Abel. He is very funny playing a surf instructor who has checked-out a bit in the Apotow produced Jason Segel film Forgetting Sarah Marshall. If you were to make a five-film box set for Rudd, at the minimum three would come from his collaborations with Apatow.

Other Notable Projects:

In addition to his work with Wain and Apatow (and the projects already discussed above), Rudd has featured in a few other good films, most notably: I Love You, Man which he co-starred with Jason Segel. Rudd plays a very goofy and awkward version of his nice-guy straight-man in it. In 2006 he took a small supporting role in Night at the Museum. He parlayed that into a supporting voice role in another broad comedy Monsters vs Aliens (one of three films that he has worked with Reese Witherspoon on – the others being Overnight Delivery, as mentioned above, and the letdown James L. Brooks film How Do You Know, though he is good in it). Continuing the trend of broad comedy, Rudd co-starred with Steve Carell in 2010’s Dinner for Schmucks (which, while mostly disliked by critics, I found to be enjoyable). Lastly, Rudd took on a character role with 2011’s Our Idiot Brother – a film that faltered mostly due to poor directing (Jesse Peretz’s other film is the horribly awful The Ex, though Rudd does have a funny cameo in it) and the audience not really knowing what to expect going in (i.e. they thought it would be an Apatow-style comedy but it is a character piece). TV wise, Rudd has worked with writer Rob Thomas twice, both to excellent results. First, he took a one-episode role in Veronica Mars. The episode is season three’s Debasement Tapes, in which Rudd plays a has-been genius songwriter who gets new life breathed into him after hanging out with one of his fans. It is among my ten favorite episodes of the series. After that, Rudd worked with Thomas again as one of the creators of Party Down – one of the best comedies on TV in the last twenty years.

Upcoming Projects:

Along with Wanderlust, Rudd has two other projects scheduled for distribution in 2012. First, he has a supporting role in Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower about an introverted freshman, Charlie, who is exposed to the real world when two seniors take him under their wings. It has a brilliant young cast with Emma Watson, Nina Dobrev, Logan Lerman, Mae Whitman, Ezra Miller, Johnny Simmons, and Reece Thompson. Rudd plays Bill, Charlie’s encouraging English teacher. Then, Rudd stars opposite Leslie Mann in Judd Apatow’s fourth film This is 40, a spinoff of Knocked Up focusing on Deb and Pete. Megan Fox, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Albert Brooks, Chris O’Dowd, and John Lithgow feature in support. It is scheduled to be released around Christmas. In 2013, Rudd has two projects on the books. Lucky Dog is about two French Canadian Christmas tree salesmen who go to New York to sell trees. It stars Paul Giamatti and Sally Hawkins in addition to Rudd. But, the more interesting of the two is Freezing People Is Easy. Directed by brilliant documentarian Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War, to name but two), the film is about a man who experiments within the field of cryogenics during the 1960s. It is being described as a drama-comedy-horror, and has a fantastic cast with Rudd joining Kristen Wiig, Owen Wilson and Christopher Walken.

Career Highlights:

1)      Clueless (1995) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
2)      Overnight Delivery (1998) – leading (DVD, Streaming)
3)      The Cider House Rules (1999) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD)
4)      Wet Hot American Summer (2001) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
5)      Friends (2002-2004) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
6)      Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD)
7)      The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
8)      Knocked Up (2007)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
9)      Veronica Mars: Debasement Tapes (2007) – supporting (DVD, Streaming)
10)   Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)* – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
11)   Role Models (2008) – leading/writer (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
12)   I Love You, Man (2009)* – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
13)   Party Down (2009-2010) – producer/writer (DVD, Streaming)
14)   Our Idiot Brother (2011) – leading (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks 

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