Subject: Paul Stephen Rudd, 41-year old American actor/screenwriter
Date of Assessment: July 30, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Apatow, teflon, sarcasm, wit
Negative Buzzwords: Apatow, stuck in a rut
The Case: Mixed feelings run amuck with this week’s subject. Exactly how does one criticize a comedic actor who has risen the top of his game yet still simultaneously (not to mention arguably) disappoints? With a resumé that runs far and wide, there’s just no practical method to discuss every detail of Paul Rudd’s career, but it would be an understatement to declare that he’s doing quite well. After all, Vanity Fair saw fit to feature Rudd as one of Comedy’s New Legends. Not only that, but Rudd seems unflappable even after some box-office flops and also appears to have discovered the fabled Fountain of Youth. Whatever his secret is, he could bottle that shit and sell it to every comedic actor who moves to Hollywood.
Audiences first took notice of Rudd in Clueless as the older step-brother to Alicia Silverstone’s Cher. Interestingly enough, this movie was one of Rudd’s first commercial successes and also a deceptively subversive one as well, which is quite telling in terms of his later career highlights. (Indeed, the satiric undertones of Clueless were much more in the spirit of Jane Austen’s Emma than the far-too-literal adaptation that starred Gwyneth “Insufferable Bitch” Paltrow.) Nowadays, Rudd is often fondly regarded for other insurrectionary turns — both on television (“Reno 911”) and in film (Role Models) — but gems like these are hard to come by in the course of an enduring comedic career. To pay the bills, Rudd has endured many thankless roles such as Dave “Blank Slate” Paris in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet, and he served as the only reason to tune into Seasons 9 & 10 of “Friends,” during which he portrayed the unlikely love interest and eventual husband of Phoebe Buffay. Hell, Rudd even managed to survive a Jennifer Aniston romcom (Object of my Affection), perhaps because he played a gay character, which probably safeguarded him against the usual publicity-staged romance and overall loss of dignity involved with her movies. Inevitably, Rudd has also taken part in the inevitable box office and critical duds (Over Her Dead Body, for which Dustin minced no words over Rudd’s performance, and I Could Never Be Your Woman) and has suffered a more personalized sense of disappointment (as creator and writer) with “Party Down,” a critically acclaimed but short-lived television program that aired on Starz network.
Nowadays, Rudd makes a tidy living from his enduring streak in many Judd Apatow movies. This windfall kicked off after Rudd’s obnoxious, womanizing camp counselor Wet Hot American Summer made an impression upon Apatow. As a result, Rudd captured a role within Anchorman and pulled it off with much subversive aplomb. More roles in Apatow films followed: The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Walk Hard, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You Man, Year One, and now Dinner for Schmucks. And while I’m thrilled that Rudd has been gifted with great commercial success, my honest impressions of these latter-year Apatow characters is that they merely range from half-assed stoned surfer guy to half-assed disenfranchised husband drone. Out of all of these subsequent films, none of them compare to Wet Hot and Anchorman in terms of the outrageousness and subversiveness displayed in Rudd’s performances. While it’s true that Rudd’s profile has risen with each new Apatow film (hell, he’s now headlining a major motion picture), I’ve become disproportionally unimpressed with each of these characters and now harbor an uneasy feeling that Rudd’s just not living up to his comedic potential.
But, obviously, I could be wrong.
Prognosis: Little doubt exists that Dinner for Schmucks (also starring fellow Apatow staple Steve Carell) will fare well this weekend at the box office, and Rudd’s career shall continue to ride as high as the Gospel of Apatow would permit. Still, if everything happens to go to hell, Rudd always has other options - namely as a “Solid Gold” revival dancer.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.