Sunday, April 05, 2009

I Love You, Paul Rudd

I remember the first time I saw Paul Rudd on screen. It was 1995 and Rudd, named Josh long before everyone in film and television seemed to don that moniker, played a college boy who had come in to Los Angeles to help his former step father with a heavy legal load but ended up falling for his distant former step sister, Cher, played by then it-girl, Alicia Silverstone, instead. Not only did CLUELESS permanently ruin the language limits of a generation I must unfortunately count myself among but it gave us that face – that smooth, earnest face with the smile that tells you he’s not going nowhere. Rudd may not have taken over Hollywood there and then but his appeal is better appreciated over time. With his latest comedy, I LOVE YOU, MAN, getting the masses laughing up the brotherly love, it is clear that Rudd’s time has finally arrived.

Rudd, having first gained notoriety on the NBC hit, “Sisters”, followed up his CLUELESS breakout with a thankless part in Baz Luhrmann’s ROMEO+JULIET. His first lead role didn’t come until 1998’s THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION, opposite “Friends” star, Jennifer Aniston. Of course, with Aniston in the project, the media focus was on her to see how well she could carry a film outside of her safety “Friends” zone. The experiment was not a success but then again, I don’t think it was ever meant to be. In this Nicolas Hytner film, Rudd plays, George Hanson, a private school first grade teacher with a big heart that he allows to be trampled on again and again. Aniston plays Nina Borowski, a social worker with a walk-up in Brooklyn and a controlling boyfriend. After George’s boyfriend breaks up with him, he moves in with Nina and the two quickly learn the meaning of unconditional love – that is until they realize how unrealistic the whole thing is. THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION is surprisingly sensitive, progressive and ahead of its time. These characters explore new relationship possibilities without any judgment or embellishment. Instead, it is just a bunch of ordinary people looking for love. It remains to this day one of my favorite romantic weepers. In fact, I just teared watching it again on a bus, surrounded by strangers.

Given the gay subject matter, which incidentally, Rudd pulled off without the least bit of cliché, this was not the vehicle to get Rudd noticed. It did get him on Aniston’s mega hit series, “Friends” though, as Phoebe Buffet’s (Lisa Kudrow) fiancé in the last season. That in turn led to a number of sidekick roles that would come to define him for a while. Rudd fell in with some very funny people, from Will Ferrell (ANCHORMAN) to Judd Apatow (KNOCKED UP). Rudd’s perfect buddy role is exemplified in Apatow’s breakout, THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN. When Steve Carrell’s Andy freaks out after realizing the damage he has done to his life after admitting he is in fact forty years old and a bonafide virgin, it is Rudd’s David that chases him through a crowded shopping complex to sit him down and tell him that there is nothing wrong with him. When Andy can’t handle the pressure of being hooked up with countless girls with the sole purpose of losing his virginity, it is David that tells him that he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to. Rudd exemplifies reliability and reassurance. You can count on him to not only help you out when you need it but to get you smiling as well.

Rudd stepped up his game last year by starring in and co-writing the moderately successful ROLE MODELS, co-starring Seann William Scott. This mostly conventional film features a fairly relatable premise. Here you have two 30-ish guys who don’t know thing one about kids who find themselves forced to mentor a couple of misfit kids. I am 30-ish guy and I wouldn’t know what to do with an infant. I would probably plop it down in front of the television, force it to watch Pixar films all day and throw food at it every once in a while to make sure it doesn’t start crying. Rudd’s kiddie problems aside, ROLE MODELS stepped up his visibility significantly and leads us to his final stepping stone, the leading man. Just like THE OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION, Rudd’s leading man in I LOVE YOU, MAN is no ordinary leading role. Sure, it follows to proper structure of a romantic comedy; Rudd meets girl, gets girl, loses girl and we must then wait to see if he gets said girl back. The major difference here is that the girl in question is actually a guy, Jason Segal, and this time Rudd isn’t playing gay. In I LOVE YOU, MAN, directed by John Hamburg, Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a guy so regular that he still has the package default ringtone on his iPhone. (And yes, I only know this because we share the same ring and I felt like my phone was going off the whole way through the film.) Peter has always had an easier time being friends with the ladies and now, as his wedding approaches, he embarks on a series of man dates in search of a best man. To watch the romantic comedy genre hilariously subverted not only allows for the glorification of male bonding but it also allows Rudd to discover new sides of himself that make us love him even more.

Today is April 6th and therefore, Paul Rudd turns 40 today. When interviewed, Rudd is adamant that he loves his life. He loves his wife, Julie Yeager, and their three-year-old son, Jack Rudd. He loves his life in New York City. He especially loves the direction his career has taken. He loves that he gets to do what he does and he gets to have his private life as well. It just seems to me that Paul Rudd is loving his life and the laughter that embodies it. You can see it right there, plainly on his smiling face and that, my friends, is why I love that man.

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