Most every modern comic actor has his fans and detractors. Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell, for example, have love-hate relationships with fans and non-fans alike. After some exposure, young stars such as Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Michael Cera started to rub people the wrong way. But I challenge you to find someone that can’t stand Paul Rudd.
Sure, not every role or movie has been a smash (far from it), but if Rudd happens to not be playing a lovable character, he does so in an inclusive manner. It’s one of those intangible “it” factors that some actors just have: to be able to create a believable character but invite the audience in as if everyone knows it’s all fun and games. It makes him one of the best actors working in comedies today.
“Wanderlust,” now on DVD and Blu-ray, not only reunites Rudd with “Friends” co-star Jennifer Aniston, but also writer/director David Wain, who has cast Rudd in two of the top five films on this list. No matter what critics have to say about the film, odds are nothing negative will be said about Rudd.
You can check out my review of “Wanderlust” here, and for simplicity sake, I did not include his role on this list.
10. Lt. Wally Worthington – The Cider House Rules
A quick shout-out here to Rudd’s dramatic resume, the highlight of which has to be the Best Picture nominee “The Cider House Rules.” His character, Wally, is shot down in World War II and comes home paralyzed from the waist down. This puts the kibosh on the affair his girlfriend was having with the main character (Tobey Maguire). Rudd has always successfully pulled off the sentimental, a true feat for someone whose greatest strength is deadpan humor.
9. Josh – Clueless
Rudd’s first notable film role came in Amy Heckerling’s 1995 generation-defining comedy about teenage life in the Valley. Rudd plays Josh, the earthy college student who is something of a stepbrother to Cher (Alicia Silverstone) and her total opposite. The undeniable sexual tension between the two plays out over the entire film, with it being considered somewhat of a resolution that the two could change their opinions of each other.
8. Chuck/Kunu – Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The race between which film has the better Rudd cameo is tight between Kunu and Rudd’s turn as John Lennon in “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” I’ll go with the better overall film to be safe. Kunu—which apparently means “Chuck” in Hawaiian—challenges the island-set film motif of the “hot surf instructor.” Rudd nails the spiritual surfer bum type, whose calm, cool metaphysical approach to instruction doesn’t quite work for Peter (Jason Segel)—at least at first. And don’t forget, when life gives you lemons, fuck the lemons and bail.
7. Pete – Knocked Up
Rudd became an official Apatow Productions veteran in “Knocked Up.” Pete is supposed to be the “grown up” of all the male characters in this film as he’s married with children, but he’s a bachelor at heart and can’t stand his life. He can’t admit his yearning for alone time, so he lies to his wife to do mundane things like see “Spider-Man 3” by himself. Consequently, his wife (Leslie Mann) thinks he’s cheating. Their relationship serves as a point of comparison for Alison and Ben (Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen). Since Rudd truly is a kid inside, Pete was a perfect transition role from supporting actor to leading man. The domestic exploits of his and Mann’s characters will be the subject of Judd Apatow’s next film, “This Is 40,” due out this December.
6. Peter Klaven – I Love You, Man
Two years after “Knocked Up,” Pete turned to Peter and Rudd became a full-fledged leading actor. He proved he could play your typical working everyman just as well as a quirky man-child, though Peter does discover his inner man-child through his newfound male friendship with Sydney (Segel). Basically, it’s a Rudd role but played in reverse and with a lot of bass slapping. Rudd is at least in part responsible for canonizing the idea of “bromance” in pop culture.
5. David – The 40-Year-Old Virgin
We all got to find out just how funny Rudd could be in his second major Apatow film, in which he and Seth Rogen trade “you know how I know you’re gay?” jabs among other insults. Despite professing to know all about love from his failed relationship with a “whore” named Amy, David is inspired by Andy’s (Steve Carell) virginity and decides to try celibacy, hence the accusations of homosexuality. David’s own sexual insecurity and emotional volatility makes him more than just a jokey supporting character, especially when he attempts to videotape his genitals.
4. Danny – Role Models
Rudd’s best turn as a “normal” leading guy came in 2008’s “Role Models,” in which he plays an energy drink salesman named Danny whose irresponsibility and commitment issues cause him to lose his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks). He’s court-ordered to participate in a big brother/big sister program and must genuinely befriend a teenager named Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who loses himself in live-action role playing in his free time. It’s a very Vince Vaughn-type role in that Danny’s the deadpan funny guy in a movie full of weirdos and crazies who say the most absurd things. The way Danny eventually turns it around and fights for Augie showed off how Rudd can turn up the sentimental without simultaneously turning up the corny.
3. Brian Fantana – Anchorman
Brian Fantana is the character that finally brought Rudd to the masses, and for that he belongs toward the top. The sexually confident sportscaster with a penis named the Octagon and testes named James Westfall and Dr. Kenneth Noisewater isn’t among Rudd’s funniest from a quality standpoint, but it’s among his most memorable and quotable, namely any and all Sex Panther references.
2. Ned Rochlin – Our Idiot Brother
The movie has drawn mixed opinions, but Rudd’s performance as Ned in this indie gives us the best of both worlds: he’s a 100-percent man-child while also a sincerely good dude. He’s so convincingly oblivious that you both pity and shake your head at him all at once. Some will undoubtedly prefer the snarky Rudd with the deadpan insults, but I think he uses those skills here, just not in an obvious way. It’s certainly Rudd’s most complete comedic performance.
1. Andy – Wet Hot American Summer
This summer camp movie has a soft spot with many, and Rudd’s Andy is easily the funniest of the whole cast, which includes Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce, Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio and Bradley Cooper among others. Sure, Andy treats his summer “girlfriend” like crap and dumps Elizabeth Banks (not the same girl) for tasting “like a burger,” but it’s done with a pitch-perfect ridiculousness. He’s a character you’re supposed to despise, but when you revisit the film knowing it’s Rudd, you can’t help but love him. A true sign of what was to come.