As one of Paul Rudd’s biggest fans, I felt compelled to write him after seeing his latest venture, “Wanderlust”, over the weekend.
By Noah Gittell
Important Message to Paul Rudd
I knew from your very first big role, in “Clueless”, that you were destined for big things. You made me laugh in supporting roles in “Anchorman”, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, and “Knocked Up”. In recent years, you’ve become a leading man and I couldn’t be happier for you. But watching your last few movies, I’ve had a gnawing sense that something was wrong. And when I saw your latest, “Wanderlust”, I realized what it was.
“Wanderlust” is set up with great comic potential. You and Jennifer Aniston play George and Linda, an urban couple who each has a doozy of a bad day at work and decide to split town for good. After an eye-opening weekend in the suburbs with George’s arrogant brother and his sad, boozy wife, they decide they are in need of a bigger change, and they soon find themselves residents of the Elysium, a Georgia commune filled with hippie stereotypes straight out of central casting. The jokes are everything you would expect from a comedy that takes place at a commune. Psychedelic drugs, open relationships, and gross-out gags each get their fair share of screen time.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I didn’t laugh. I laughed hard several times, mostly because of you. But in your last starring roles – “How Do You Know,” “Dinner for Schmucks,” and here in “Wanderlust” – you were the straight guy, the one with whom audiences identify. I know that this transformation from goofy supporting character to leading man is inevitable if you want your career to progress. You can’t play the camp counselor who lets kids drown and then tries to cover it up (“Wet Hot American Summer”) or a womanizing newscaster who nicknames his private parts (“Anchorman”) forever.
But here’s the thing: you’re not a normal guy. You are weird, and you’re at your funniest when you let your freak flag fly. The best scene in “Wanderlust” consists of you merely improvising in front of a mirror, trying to psyche yourself up for your first “free love” experience. I wanted more scenes like that one.
But it’s fitting that this is the scene in which you do your best work because you’re doing it by yourself. As funny as you are, I notice that you don’t really interact with other characters in a meaningful way onscreen. You are always kind of just “doing your Paul Rudd thing,” being charming, goofy, and a little bit awkward. They say that 90% of acting is listening, but your acting style is self-contained. Now I think we’re getting to the crux of the problem.
You need to break out of your comfort zone. “Wanderlust” was directed by David Wain, who directed two other films you’ve starred in. It was produced by Judd Apatow, who has produced seven of your movies. It’s time for a change. Try drama or star in a thriller. Play a bad guy. Just find a way to be weird again. “Wanderlust” is a movie about weird people but because it portrays you as so unflinchingly normal and resorts to caricatures for everyone else, it never achieves weirdness. And it hurts me to see you in a movie like that.