- The Lunch with ‘Jodorowski’s Dune’ Producers Travis Stevens and Stephen Scarlatta
- The Lunch with Alison Willmore, Film Critic for BuzzFeed
- The Lunch with Matt and Tom Berninger of ‘Mistaken for Strangers’
- The Lunch, with Anne Thompson, Journalist and Author of ‘The $11-Billion Year’
- The Lunch with Chad Hartigan, Dir. of ‘This is Martin Bonner’
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Tag Archives: Paul Rudd
Financially, Wanderlust will fare just fine, buoyed both by Aniston’s very real (and earned) star power and by the goodwill it earns by being a resolutely ‘R’ comedy in a mild February of milder releases. And if director and co-writer David Wain were not the man behind Role Models, one of the funniest studio comedies of the past 10 years, perhaps I wouldn’t feel as disappointed by Wanderlust as I do. But while Role Models mined riches even in the well-plowed comedic soil of cretins befriending kids, Wanderlust‘s equally musty city-vs-country culture clash plot finds only flecks of hilarity in mostly bland-to-bold mediocrity.
Harried urbanites Aniston and Rudd, both smacked with bad professional news, take a bath on their just-purchased Manhattan “microloft” and, after a brief stay with Rudd’s jerky older sibling Ken Marino (co-writer, with Wain), wind up at a Georgia commune called Elysium. But it’s not a commune, explains tribal elder Justin Theroux—that word suggests a bunch of hippies smoking weed and playing guitar—as behind Theroux, Wain and cinematographer Michael Bonvillian capture exactly that in soft, hazy deep focus.
While perhaps best-known for his television work on “Parks and Recreation” or the beloved cult hit “Party Down,” Adam Scott has a film resume as impressive as it is … odd. He’s been snacked on in “Piranha 3D,” abandoned by Amy Adams in “Leap Year” and even logged time on the bridge of the Enterprise. (Although, really, ‘Defiant Helm Crewman’ may not be the most significant credit anyone’s gotten out of “Star Trek.”) In “Our Idiot Brother,” Scott plays Jeremy, an aspiring ‘hard’ (science-driven) science-fiction writer who’s neighbors with — and best friend to — Elizabeth Banks’ Miranda even as Paul Rudd’s Ned ruins Miranda’s life. We spoke with Scott in Beverly Hills about “Our Idiot Brother,” how “Party Down” has made him a patron saint for a certain group of professionals in Los Angeles and his sadness over some of his unseen — and seen — acting roles.
Let’s start with the most problematic aspect of the film: No unpublished hard science fiction writer looks like that.
Scott: Really? What do they look like?
I just picture them all as unhappy endomorphs.
Scott: Or they look like the guy who wrote ‘Game of Thrones?’
George R.R. Martin — they all look like him: Vaguely doughy, and septuagenarian. You don’t research anything like that, do you? You’re there to be the neighbor.
Scott: No, I did not.
You didn’t spend three or four weeks immersing yourself in the world of science fiction?
Scott: I did not, although I am a big sci-fi fan. I’m a relative sci-fi fan. I think I know good sci-fi when I see it; I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but I was a big fan of ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ but that was true sci-fi — the recent series.
Did you call Martin Starr (who played a ‘hard’ science-fiction writer alongside Scott on ‘Party Down’) for tips on playing the sci-fi obsessed?
Scott: The hard sci-fi writer? No, but that’s really funny.
As a side note, did ‘Party Down’ make you the patron saint of a certain socioeconomic strata of Los Angeles, the irrational dreamers with day jobs?
Scott: I think they’re all patron saints, as far as I’m concerned. I was in that exact spot for a long, long time, and hats off to everybody that’s just starting out and struggling, like all the people on that show were. It is funny, because at parties when there are caterers — not all the time, because the show’s still pretty small — sometimes caterers do like to talk about ‘Party Down.’ It’s awesome.
And the degree to which it accurately reflected the catering lifestyle?
Scott: Yeah. They’re like, ‘It’s spot-on.’ I never catered, but I know that Rudd did and I know that Dan Etheridge did, and I think Jon Enbom did. Those guys knew what they were talking about when they were writing it.
The scene you had with Mr. Rudd where you’re in the coffee shop and you are sniping and picking other human beings to bits, is that written down, or do you sit down with that and go?
Scott: Oh no, it was written. I think we maybe adlibbed a couple of things there, but that was all written. It’s a terrific script. It was all written down. There wasn’t much adlibbing in this movie at all; it wasn’t necessary.
You went with what was on the page, because what was on the page was really good?
Scott: Yeah, it’s awesome.
Are you somebody who does a lot of line work or prep work? Do you sit with Ms. Banks and go, ‘We’re going to run through the scene to get the timing of it right,’ or is it just showing up and drinking your coffee?
Scott: No, we’re friends, so I feel like whatever rapport you have as friends, if you do have a rapport, then bring that to it. Hopefully it won’t feel forced or anything when you’re watching it later. We were all friends beforehand, so it felt like we didn’t even really talk about it at all; we just showed up and did it and hoped for the best. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes you would need to be like, ‘Wait a second, we should probably figure this out.’ It’s nice when you’re all close buddies and you can jump in and do it. It’s really fun.
When you were at Sundance and the film was without a distributor, was there a victory lap moment when it got bought by the Weinstein Company?
Scott: I wasn’t there, but I think they were all very pleased.
As you would like to hope they would be.
Scott: Yes, I think they were.
You were gratified knowing, ‘This movie that I’m in is not going into a drawer?’
Scott: Absolutely, because I’ve made a lot of movies that are in a lot of drawers. It’s nice when you know something’s actually going to see the light of day. I never really had any doubt about this one. It always seemed like something that was going to do just fine.
Which movie of yours that’s currently drawered would you most like to see escape?
Scott: There’s a movie I did a few years ago called ‘Passenger Side’ that I really love. It’s on DVD and stuff, but it got theatrical everywhere else except the U.S. through some snafu with whoever bought the DVD rights way ahead of time. I don’t remember what it was, but I think it really deserved theatrical in the U.S. Especially a couple years ago, things were even tougher for the independent market than it is now. It’s a really terrific movie I’m really proud of.
Which of your films that got released would you like to see back in the drawer?
Scott: Maybe ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline.’ It does show on TV every once in a while, and I’m like, ‘Wow.’ I was 20 and it was my first movie job. But there’s no excuse for that acting.
Have the residual checks dried up from ‘Hellraiser: Bloodline?’
Scott: They haven’t dried up, but I think they’ve been reduced down to 43 cents. I do get them.
Every time you buy an orange, that’s some ‘Hellraiser’ money working.
You’re making a film with a lot of effort, but you’re also in New York in the summer for six weeks with a lot of your friends, doing things like moving furniture. Is there a bit of grown-up summer camp going on?
Scott: Yeah. It was super fun. It was so fun. New York in the summer is a blast, and we all are friends. We’re older now, and we all have families and kids and stuff, but yeah, it was super fun. Jesse is a lovely guy and such a good director. ‘The Chateau’ is still one of my favorites from the ’90s. It’s such a great movie. It was a very relaxed, pleasant way to spend the summer.
Have you ever lived in New York? There’s so many urban touches this goes through, like moving furniture and helping your neighbor with the pilot light. You’ve done that?
Scott: No, I’ve never lived there, but I’ve certainly spent a lot of time there. Never lived there. I always planned to, and then it never happened. I started a family here, and we’re never going to move to New York. We go there a lot. I’m going to go there again next spring, and we were just there this past winter — my whole family. We’ll be going there for years and years, I’m sure. It’s so fun. Do you live there?
No, I’m here. The whole thing about moving furniture, that seemed like a very –
Scott: New York thing?
Exactly. Best part of it all for you?
Scott: It was just fun working with friends. I’m really happy I got to work with Jesse; I always wanted to. I’ve known him for years. I think he’s a great filmmaker. I’m just glad he’s back making movies, because he’s so good.
I always wonder, when you’re making comedy, where’s the line between ‘We have to keep this from being as broad and comedic as possible, but also being at least slightly rooted in character?’ For me, the lynchpin scene of this film is the one where Paul Rudd loses it playing charades, where you see the optimism crack and you see there’s actually a real person under all that. Where’s the balance?
Scott: I think a lot of it lies in the script. I think the script really does a lot of that work for us in the sense that we certainly get all the laughs. It’s essentially a story about a family. There’s nothing you could do to sway that tone unless you wildly screw up. They did such a great job that I think we were in good shape from the moment we all read that script.
In your own family, are you the idiot brother? I’m the idiot brother in my family, definitively. Are you the straw that stirs the drink?
Scott: I think I would have been if my career had never gotten any traction. I probably would have been the idiot brother, crashing on my brother and my sister’s couch right now. Luckily, that didn’t happen. Here I am getting interviewed in a hotel room, and I don’t have to crash on anyone’s couch.
Is couch surfing the epitome of man-childhood?
Scott: I still have friends that are couch surfing, and they’re in their 40s.
Did you feel an incredible sigh of relief that you were dying at the end of ‘Piranha 3D?’
Scott: A relief when I found out the character was going to die? I guess. I knew that before I did the movie, so going in I knew I was going to eat it at the end — or get eaten at the end. I loved getting killed; that was super fun.
“My Idiot Brother,” directed by Jesse Peretz, is in many ways a hard film to rationalize here at the Sundance film festival. It is a glossy comedy, albeit with a thin layer of surface grime provided by harsh language, brief nudity and other mature circumstances to take a bit of the gleam off. It is about as “independent” as a premature infant on a respirator. It does not introduce new faces and talents, nor does it show us talents we know doing something different. Instead, “My Idiot Brother” assembles a comedy dream team for a story of family and forgiveness, shows us people trying to be good, trying to be more than themselves, and has amazing comedy bits ranging from huge sight gags and ba-doomp-boomp! punchlines, to razor-sharp sentences that boomerang back after they’ve whizzed by and silent expressions that convey volumes. It is a clear heir to the Apatovian comedy trend of emotional journeys along roads pocked with potty-talk potholes, and yet it also has as much heart as, if not more than, the best of Apatow’s work. It may be slender, but it is also a sheer delight.
Ned (Paul Rudd) is an organic farmer in New York; bearded, beatific and blithely stupid, Ned’s gentle nature and sympathy for human suffering earn him a few months in prison when he sells marijuana to a cop. Not an undercover cop; one in uniform. The fact that Rudd can even come close to selling just how free-thinking, and un-thinking, Ned can be, is a high-water-mark of comedic performance. When released, Ned’s support system of girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn), home and dog are all stripped from him, and he crashes with his mom (Shirley Knight) and his three sisters—mom Liz (Emily Mortimer), stressed writer Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and downtown bohemian Natalie (Zooey Deschanel).
You can catch glimpses of “Candide” in “My Idiot Brother”—Ned is a bit of a holy fool, longs to tend to his garden and is as out-of-place in our times as Voltaire’s Candide was in his. While Voltaire, it is true, didn’t get as much comedy mileage out of weed and bisexuality as Peretz and co-screenwriters Evengia Peretz and David Schisgal, it should be said that they do, in fact, have something to say about our times just as the French writer did for his. Ned is thick as an organic plank and given to plastic shoes and other indignities, but he has a kind heart, thinks the best of people, and exists as a hypocrisy-free zone that other people get dragged into. “I live my life … a certain way,” Ned notes, and if others do not, perhaps that says more about them than it does him. The cast is stunningly impressive. Rudd is terrific (having previously worked with Peretz on the ugly-but-funny 2001 film “The Chateau,”), but Banks, Mortimer and Deschanel are all given plenty to make hay with. Knight gets a few scenes that are both sad and funny; Rashida Jones sparks as Deschanel’s girlfriend/lawyer/life partner; Steve Coogan is all pretension, philandering and smarm as Mortimer’s horrible husband; T.J. Miller plays Ned’s unlikely ally in his mission to retrieve his dog, Willie Nelson; Adam Scott is Banks’ neighbor and possibly-more-than-friend.
If “My Idiot Brother” were just funny people being funny, it would be a far lesser film. But it’s about people being people—making mistakes, getting it wrong, trying to put it right. And Rudd’s work as Ned takes a fascinating turn in the one scene where Ned’s blank Zen calm and optimism do crack during a Charades game, resulting in his lashing out at his sisters. (At the time, you think it’s a good scene; after the film, you realize that it’s an essential one.) Fraught with nudity and sex and drugs, it is a decidedly adult film about feeling like you are not quite an adult, no matter what your age. The dialogue is full of backhand compliments and full-force-serve insults, and the ping and pop of it all is as sparkling and harsh and intoxicating as a strong rye-and-ginger.
Playing Ned’s parole officer, Sterling Brown (who is a new face, at least to this writer, and, frankly, deserves much, much more work based solely on this performance) explains to Ned that the State of New York “…encourages you to reflect on the choices that brought you here.” At the time—and with Brown’s delivery—it’s a funny joke. The true pleasure of “My Idiot Brother” is that, in time, it sounds like good advice—not just for Ned, and not just for his immediate family, but for all of us. “My Idiot Brother” may or may not be your idea of what Sundance means, but as American comedies go, it’s a welcome pleasure and a real surprise. [B+]
Sundance starts on the 20th, and as ever, the question is what, specifically, you try to see — because with hundreds of films playing in 10 days, you have to make some difficult decisions on the fly in below-freezing temperatures. With that said, here are 10 films that I specifically have on my radar, because they offer actors, writers or directors I trust, or, more interestingly, because they promise that shock of the strange and new that you go to Sundance for.
“The Guard”: Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson in a globetrotting crime film as an FBI man comes to Ireland to stop a drug ring and runs afoul of the local village copper. In other words, two amazing actors given a chance to let it rip.
“My Idiot Brother”: Paul Rudd may be a multiplex darling, but he made his bones with scruffy indies like “The Shape of Things” and “The Chateau.” Here, Rudd plays a scruffy dolt plunged into the lives of his sisters (Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel).
“On the Ice”: A tale of crime, family and secrets in Alaska, with a cast of relatively unknown actors — all of which makes it sound a lot like the acclaimed “Winter’s Bone” did this time last year.
“Here“: Ben Foster may be part of the upcoming action burger “The Mechanic,” but he’s possibly one of our most talented young actors, and “Here” looks like an ambitious showcase for his talents, as an American engineer drives across Armenia.
“Page One: A Year in the Life of the New York Times”: Exactly the kind of fly-on-the-wall documentary I love, plus the behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt at one of the last venerable outposts of an industry under fire.
“The Woman”: Lucky McKee makes fascinating, terrifying horror films — and this midnight selection promises deep, unsettling terrors.
“Reagan”: The 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration is on the first day of Sundance, and Eugene Jarecki’s doc promises a fascinating look at the president whose long shadow still falls over America.
In “How Do You Know,” Reese Witherspoon plays pro softball player Lisa, who’s benched and fired and, in that tailspin, torn between casual, glib pro baseball player Matty (Owen Wilson) and disgraced financial maven George (Paul Rudd). It’s a return to familiar territory from writer-director James L. Brooks (and awfully similar to his best film, “Broadcast News“) and yet, at the same time, very different. Witherspoon, for example, is on-screen playing ball for only about 30 seconds, but trained three months to prepare. Witherspoon looks, carries herself, and speaks in a way unlike any time you’ve seen her before. And when I spoke with her in New York, she explained how that was entirely intentional.
“Yeah, I totally changed my body,” she said. “I was working out five hours a day, which is intense. Those athletes are exhausting. But also, just the way she walked: She was much more masculine than I am. That was an interesting female character to play in a movie. I had never done that before — she has a deeper voice, she’s kind of one of the boys, she’s hitting the guys all the time.”
And, according to Witherspoon, she and Brooks didn’t end their prep on the softball diamond. “We met a lot of Olympians, we met a lot of collegiate athletes, and we actually went to their apartments, took pictures, took their clothes out — I tried to have (my) clothes be exactly like their clothes, down to everything in the closet,” she said. “So there’s a lot of authenticity there. He really wanted it to look like … there’s an interesting sort of suspended adolescence with people who have been professional athletes. They’re kind of carried through high school, carried through college, and don’t really grow up romantically the same way — so that’s what my character’s going through.”
Just as her character has to deal with very different suitors, so, too, did Witherspoon have to deal with very different leading men. “Owen is much more laid-back and easygoing,” she said. “He’s Southern, too, so maybe there’s some of that Southern ease to it. And he’s such a great writer, so he really understands which part of the scene to emphasize. Paul is more, I don’t know, kinetic. He has a lot of energy, and he’s very physical, too. He’s very funny, his face is moving around a lot … and it’s hard not to laugh when you’re hanging out with Paul because he’s just so funny. He’ll say something hysterically funny and then they say ‘Rolling!’ and you’re like, ‘Oh my God.’”
As for Witherspoon’s own character, one of her biggest challenges was tapping into Lisa’s no-nonsense optimism and drive: “I think it’s interesting hanging out with a bunch of athletes. They use a lot of those affirmations and they really hold onto them as real parts of their personality to drive them forward. It’s about being positive, but being realistic at the same time, so it’s not false positives. You’re supposed to really evaluate yourself, and there’s a constant evaluation going on — they’re very hard on themselves. It was interesting to have those platitudes surrounding me at all times in the movie, and be able to touch on those. It’s an interesting way to live your life.”
The sun-bleached hair, the slow and self-confident drawl, the laid-back charm — sitting opposite Owen Wilson in New York, you get a sense of just how far the talented Texan’s attitude has taken him, and how easy he’s made it all look. Wilson’s debut, “Bottle Rocket,” was produced by “How Do You Know” writer-director James L. Brooks, so the two go back — but this is the first time they’ve worked together as director and actor. Playing a pro baseball player, as Wilson explained, was less about a state of physical shape than it was a state of mind.
“I certainly didn’t do as much work as Reese did,” he said. “Every time I’d see her at rehearsal, she would have already been playing softball that day for three hours, training, weights. I didn’t do so much of that, although I did get to go to spring training in Arizona and hang around with some of the Texas Rangers. I have a friend who works with the Rangers, so they set it up and I got to meet Nolan Ryan and some of the guys on the team. That was great.”
Wilson’s Matty also has a distinct kind of honesty — which is to say, seemingly no filter between his mouth and his brain. Wilson laughed, explaining how, for him, Matty’s honesty felt like a variation of the sacred fool of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High“: “And that’s a nice quality. When people don’t have that built-in sensor, it’s a little uncomfortable, because you’re not sure what they’re going to say, and sometimes they put their foot in their mouth, but it’s also nice to get that kind of honesty. Occasionally, you would say something that would (have) sort of like a Spicoli kind of logic to it.”
Wilson has a long track record with Brooks (“I met him so long ago when he kind of gave us our big break. Now getting a chance to act in one of his movies seemed unbelievable.”), but his director made it clear that Wilson was on his film to work, not relax. “The working process with Reese … Jim kind of set the tone,” he said. “It was always something where you felt comfortable trying things and you’re in a lot of takes and you’re going different directions, so I think we both just enjoyed each other’s characters and had fun playing these roles.”
I also had to ask — possibly to salt the wound a little — was there any regret on Wilson’s part about being in a film with Jack Nicholson, but not having any scenes with Jack Nicholson? Wilson smiled: “Yeah, there definitely is. In fact, I would jealously ask Paul, ‘Have any good Jack Nicholson stories for me?’ — because I didn’t get to work with him. Paul would tell me the stories, and then I would adopt them as my own, as if they had happened to me.”
As How Do You Know’s financial fall guy George — who’s exiled from his firm and may have to take a prison sentence from misdoings at the firm owned by his dad, played by Jack Nicholson — Paul Rudd varies between elation at meeting Witherspoon’s Lisa, the girl of his dreams, and depression at the fact his life’s become a nightmare. Speaking with Rudd in New York, I asked him how, as an actor, you find a way to play those opposite ends of the emotional spectrum without getting too broad or blown-out.
“Well, we did so many takes,” he said. “James Brooks likes to do lots of takes; he’s kind of known for it. We would do varying degrees with the hope that we would find a right tone in the editing room. If something’s justified, you can kind of go farther than you think — if it’s justified. Otherwise it looks fake and kind of phony and broad and big. It’s just trying to hold on to what the reality of the situation is and how this guy might really genuinely react. Then he has that line, too, where he says, ‘Optimism is sanity for me right now.’ It’s those moments.”
For his part, writer-director Brooks praises Rudd’s “rubber face” and comedy chops as a big part of George’s character. “If you say, ‘Cross the street,’ he’s going to do something funny (with it), as he does in this picture: He gets a laugh crossing the street,” Brooks said.
Rudd, reunited with Witherspoon for the first time on-screen since 1998′s “Overnight Delivery” — no, you didn’t know about that, because no one saw it — had a little past experience to ease the way, but not so much that he wasn’t on his toes. “We had worked together before, but it had been a long time,” he said. “So we knew each other, just had familiarity and friendship and all of that. So that was good. But there was nothing we ever really said. We don’t really sit down years before a scene and (discuss) this and that. It’s great working with her. She’s so good — you don’t have to do much.”
While Wilson may regret not logging any screen time with Nicholson, Rudd wishes he’d had more time to bounce off of Wilson. “It was a real bummer for me that I didn’t get to do more stuff with Owen, because I’m a huge Owen Wilson fan and I’d met him a few times, but I’d never worked with him,” he said. “So I’m excited that I’m doing this movie with Owen Wilson, and then we had very little interaction in the movie. But I did get to do all of my stuff with Reese and Jack Nicholson, and when you’re kind of working opposite people that talented, that good, you really don’t want to mess up. It makes my job easier, kind of — you just want to play at their level, I suppose.”
While watching “Dinner for Schmucks,” you may get the feeling you’ve seen all this before. This feeling is not unwarranted. Paul Rudd plays a man who gains moral guidance and purpose from an unexpected source, just as he did in “I Love You, Man” and “Role Models.” Steve Carell plays an off-kilter outsider with what is ultimately revealed as a decent heart, just as he did in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Get Smart.” “Dinner for Schmucks” is itself an Americanization of a French farce, 1998′s “Le Diner de Cons,” with “Meet the Parents” director Jay Roach at the helm. While the whole enterprise is filling, it also feels a little bit reheated, more made from a mix off the shelf than made-to-order with fresh ingredients.
Rudd is Tim, an analyst at Fender Financial Services who craves a promotion, in no small part to impress his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak). His work has gotten him on the radar with his boss Fender (Bruce Greenwood), which leads to a new challenge. Tim is asked to participate in a regular dinner the executives at Fender throw as a competition to see who can invite the biggest loser to be put on display for the smirking amusement of the gathered money managers, with the clear implication that putting in effort for the ironically named “Dinner for Winners” will be rewarded. Tim is torn between revulsion and greed, at which point he runs into Barry (Carell), literally, as Barry is in the road finding a new subject for his hobby of mouse taxidermy.
With his tragic haircut and rodent-like overbite, Barry’s clumsy, clueless and stilted — and thus the perfect candidate for Tim to bring to the “Dinner for Winners.” Much like Francis Veber’s “La Cage Aux Folles,” similarly Americanized as “The Birdcage,” the story here contains plenty of familiar farce elements — overheard conversations, poorly thought-out schemes, inadvisable impersonations and the right thing ultimately being done only after multiple efforts to do the wrong thing have failed spectacularly. Roach’s directorial approach seems to be limited to getting out of his actor’s way — there is a nice touch of style as Zach Galifianakis, playing an IRS manager who believes he has the ability to control the human mind, is shot in a series of ever-nearer close-ups as he unleashes his power — and by and large the approach works.
It works in no small part because the cast around Rudd and Carell is so good. Jemaine Clement (of TV’s “Flight of the Conchords“) plays a self-centered artist in a way that’s both overdone and understated. Galifianakis glares out over his beard to surprising effect, and David Walliams (of “Little Britain“) is excellent as Herr Mueller, the vain Swiss upper-class twit Tim’s desperate to land as a client for Fender. But the film, and we, keep coming back to Rudd and Carell, and even if “Dinner for Schmucks” is just another reiteration of things they’ve done many times before — Rudd with his bemused, askew deadpan, Carell with his halting awkwardness — it is at least well-executed. Roach’s screenwriters (David Guion and Michael Handelman) open up Veber’s story from its roots on the stage, and also manage one of the most silly-but-sad, funny-but-true sight gags I’ve seen in a long time, as Tim peruses some of Barry’s work and unlocks a little of what makes Barry tick.
“Dinner for Schmucks” could have used a little more of that kind of inspiration, even though the laughs do come through fairly consistently and with a minimum of padding around them. It seems mean and sour to state that your biggest complaint about a comedy is that it didn’t consistently kick into the realm of the truly hysterical, and yet nothing served up in the movie is at the level of comedy or consistency attained in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” or “Role Models.” Considering that Roach is the director who wrung three films out of such meager beginnings as “Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery” and “Meet the Parents,” it feels almost inevitable we’ll be offered a second serving of “Dinner for Schmucks” at some point, but it’s hard not to think the portion offered here is just enough to satisfy anyone looking for a few laughs.
With Role Models opening near the top of the box office (and, really, coming in second to a bunch of computer animated animals says more about the quality of the audience than the quality of a film), actor Paul Rudd now has both one of his biggest ever openings and his first mainstream lead role. If there’s any justice in the world (which, as we all know, may not be the case) Role Models will make Rudd a big-time, big-money star, and I for one couldn’t be more glad if that happened; Rudd’s a tremendously gifted comedic actor — just the way he says the word ‘No’ throughout Role Models is like watching a jazz player work a single note up and down the scales — but he’s also a real acting talent, which is partly why, after laughing myself stupid at Role Models, I went back to a sharper, smarter performance by Rudd in 2003′s The Shape of Things.
Directed and written by Neil LaBute — bringing his stage play to the screen — The Shape of Things revolves around Adam (Rudd) and Evelyn (Rachael Weisz). They meet when Adam’s working his security guard job at the museum; Evelyn hops the velvet rope to photograph a statue and he cautions her to move back: “You’re over the line.” “Hmm?” “You’re over the line, Miss. …” “It’s ‘Ms.’ …” And, just like that, their dynamic is set. She doesn’t move back; she’s planning on defacing the statue to negate the fig leaf over the statue’s genitals: “I don’t like art that isn’t true.” When Adam asks her for her number, she gives it to him, and he’s flabbergasted. She watches him leave. And then does what she was going to do.
Slumpy and self-doubting, Adam’s a dork who’s eager to please; Evelyn’s eager for different things entirely. She gets Adam to jog, change his hair, spiff up his wardrobe, give up glasses for contacts, change his life; meanwhile, she’s working on her big art project for her post-graduate work. She’s spending a lot of time with Adam, even with the unveiling of her art piece coming up; he never quite gets that their relationship and her project may be related. …
LaBute sprang off the screen with his debut film, In The Company of Men, and The Shape of Things is a similar story of manipulation and power; much like David Mamet, LaBute’s a moralist who’s too often, and too easily, accused of being a misogynist. LaBute doesn’t approve of what his characters do, but he’s also honest enough — and blunt enough — to acknowledge that the world inside his art can, and should, resemble the world where we live; the weak are trampled and the bad sleep well. Evelyn meets — and provokes — Adam’s friends Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and Phillip (Fred Weller), and while Jenny and Phillip both see the changes in Adam, they don’t quite see what’s behind them.
Weisz is showy, scary and a little magnificent in her role, but in many ways, Rudd’s the cornerstone of the film. We see him become a different person, but the old Adam — the one willing to submit to all of Evelyn’s cajoling and hints — is always under the surface. Shakespeare’s 116th sonnet says “Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds/ Or bends with the remover to remove. …” Adam’s changing himself in pursuit of something, and by the film’s finale, you realize that the greatest crime in the story isn’t what Evelyn does to Adam but rather in how willingly and weakly he acquiesces and goes along with things.
La Bute, to his credit, doesn’t just throw his stage play up on the screen; the camera moves in confident and subtle ways, and the soundtrack is made up entirely of music by Elvis Costello — whose lyrical interest in what he, in a quote from his early career, boiled down to “revenge and guilt” makes La Bute’s use of his spooky, sexy and stark compositions a perfect choice. The Shape of Things, in the end, even with the great cast and smart choices and razor-sharp writing, comes down to Rudd — the bright light of hope in his eyes in some scenes, the dim dull darkness of doubt and depression in others. Rudd has his comedy hit now, but The Shape of Things makes it clear that he’s got a lot more to offer us in the shape of things to come.