On-Screen, Off-Screen: The Enduring Comfort of Paul Rudd

“On-Screen, Off-Screen” is our monthly film series created to showcase a more personal retrospective about some of our favourite filmmakers. Each month, one 25YL staffer will choose one of their own favourite filmmakers – be it a director or performer or writer or composer or production designer, etc – and will analyse what it is about their on-screen work that they love, and how they’ve been influenced/inspired by them off-screen either personally or creatively or artistically. Maybe one of us will write about the entire filmography of a director, or someone might choose an actor associated with playing a certain role multiple times, or maybe there’s that one soundtrack by a composer that gets them every time. This month sees Laura Stewart reflecting on some of the films starring Paul Rudd and how they inspired her in different ways at different points in her life. Enjoy!


I have pondered over and over again about who I should cover for my edition of “On-Screen, Off-Screen”. Those who have gone before me, and almost certainly those after me, will choose far more highbrow filmmakers I am sure, but I am not a film buff particularly. I like what I like and don’t think too deeply as to who is behind it. So this became a real issue, who does inspire me? Is there anyone whose films I just cannot miss? When it came down to it there was only one answer, Paul Rudd.

I am not even going to deny that my love started with a schoolgirl crush aged 16 when I first saw Clueless, and that crush has never waned. But no, this is not going to be the story of how I ended up with a restraining order, this is a story about comfort. That is what Paul Rudd is to me, a warm place. His films hit that sweet, ‘my life is falling apart and I have to eat all the cookies and watch comfort films and laugh until it’s all gone away’ spot.

It goes without saying that Paul Rudd is considered Hollywood’s Mr Nice Guy. He is often the go-to guy for the role of the perfect fantasy boyfriend/husband (Clueless, Romeo + Juliet, Over Her Dead Body, The Object of My Affection, Friends) or the full-on weirdly sexy, obnoxious buffoon in comedy greats like Anchorman and Wet Hot American Summer. But, in some of his best-known roles, he often plays the embittered cynic (Role Models, Knocked Up, This Is 40, I Love You, Man). Perhaps these suit him because they are so unlike the man in real life and he gets to really pretend. For I am yet to read an interview with Paul Rudd or find any mention of him anywhere that doesn’t say he is the warmest and kindest guy to talk to or work with. A rarity in Hollywood. To find someone who hasn’t allowed fame to go to their head, who still feels passionate about each project, who puts his all into every movie or show he does no matter how big or small, who always just wants to make people happy.

Rudd has kept his personal life out of the limelight (had to get a Rush reference in there somewhere, my love for Rush quadrupled upon seeing I Love You, Man) and this is something I admire. Little is known about the man other than that he is married to his long-term love, Julie Yaeger, and the pair have two children of which he is vocally proud. He was born in Passaic, New Jersey to British parents, and is of Jewish background. Living in mostly Christian and Catholic neighbourhoods and moving around a lot as a child meant he had to try harder to fit in, and he did this by entertaining his friends with the comedic flamboyant dancing and over-the-top accents that we all still love to this day. At the end of the day, Paul Rudd is just the same as any of us — we all just want to fit in.

So here, today, I will tell you about the films of Paul Rudd that I go to time and time again, in sickness and sometimes even in health.

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Diggers (2006)

First up is Diggers (2006), a low-budget film written by Ken Marino and produced by David Wain. Rudd, Wain and Marino have worked together countless times on film and television, and in my opinion, it is these three together that make Rudd’s finest and silliest work. Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten, Role Models and Wanderlust are to name but a few, all of which are quite ridiculous outright comedies — this is where Diggers differs.

Diggers is a coming-of-age story, about four working-class friends growing up on Long Island, New York, as clam diggers. Their fathers were clam diggers as well as their grandfathers before them. Sounds pretty dire, right? Well, in some ways it kind of is. Rudd plays Hunt, the lead role as the friend who most wants to change his life. He wants more for himself than battling day by day against the big fisheries who are taking more and more control of the waters, leaving them with little room to dig, broke and hopeless. When his father dies, the real prospect of doing something different appeals to him. This is much to the disappointment and anguish of his friends who have no ambition to do anything more. They are quite satisfied with either churning out and then shouting at their kids constantly or seducing the local lasses. Rudd’s sister, played by Maura Tierney, is one of those lasses. When Hunt spots an attractive redhead, Lauren Ambrose, sunbathing from a magnificent beachfront house, his life takes a sudden change. She inspires him to create. He’s always enjoyed photography, and she (being an artist from New York) sees his potential. Rudd goes on to follow his dreams — he may not get the girl, but when you are in New York there are plenty of other fish in the sea (excuse the pun).

So nothing exactly mind-blowing here, I’ll be the first to admit that, but it’s the feeling this film gives me. The location certainly helps — the cosy harbourside bars, the ’70s rock soundtrack, and the laid-back feeling of just chilling out with friends. The odd brawl and some criminally hot flirting from Rudd make this the place I want to be. So while Hunt wants to give all that up for the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, he knows he can return home to the shore whenever he needs to and that is exactly what I do too. Every time I need a little comfort by the sea, I play this movie.

Having watched this movie more times than care to admit, it has embedded itself in my mind. There came a point in my life a year ago, I lost my job — a job that I hated and caused me more stress than even I realised at the time. Nevertheless, my pride took a huge dent, because as awful as that job was I poured my heart and soul into it for years, only to be humiliatingly pushed for standing up for myself. But, much like Hunt’s father dying in Diggers, this major life event also gave me chance to reassess what I really wanted to do. I learned quickly that it is this. Writing for 25YL, writing for passion and helping build a very special place. I guess, somewhere in my subconscious the film played a big part in me deciding to follow my dreams, to leave the rat race behind for good and be the real me. Not the frumpy mummy, housewife and general dogsbody I’d become. Like Hunt, my friends and family really don’t get it. While they’d never say it, I am sure they think it’s nonsense and that I’m having a midlife crisis, but that just spurs me on more. I don’t need fame and fortune, this is purely about happiness and never having any regrets.

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The Shape of Things (2003)

Another Rudd film I go to regularly is a painful one. The Shape of Things (2003) scares me. It is not a horror in any sense, but it is psychologically devastating. Adapted for the big screen, it was originally a stage play with the same cast.

Adam (Rudd) meets a very attractive art student, Evelyn, played by Rachel Weisz, at the museum where he works. He finds it surprising that she is attracted to him but is flattered. Slowly but surely over the coming months, she changes everything about him. He cuts his hair, eats healthily, loses weight, starts wearing contact lenses instead of glasses, and even goes as far as having plastic surgery to fix his misshapen nose. His confidence grows, and as he becomes more attractive to the opposite sex, gets into a bit of a pickle by getting it on with his best friends fiancée (Gretchen Mol) behind Evelyn’s back. This act leads to his friend’s relationship ending and him losing his two best friends. However, Evelyn sticks around.

Eventually, he discovers that this whole moulding of him was part of Evelyn’s art thesis project and that her tutor had set her the task of ‘changing the world’. Instead, she decided to ‘change someone’s world’. Her work consisted of sculpting Adam into a more attractive person on the outside and made him feel true love, but in reality, none of the feelings she has for him throughout the film are genuine. The videotapes of their lovemaking are part of the art project. She announces during her presentation that she is not going to marry him (he had earlier proposed with his grandmother’s engagement ring), and she never was going to — the ring was just something she wanted for one of her exhibits.

Adam is, of course, publicly humiliated and emotionally crippled by this revelation. Evelyn argues that despite this awful deceit, she has been a positive influence on his life and made him a better person. The film ends as he asks her if “anything you told me about yourself was true” and she tells him what she whispered in his ear the night they had sex on tape was true.

Finally, Adam stands alone in the gallery. He goes over to the TV and pushes “Play” as it shows the two of them in bed making love. He watches it over and over again.

We never learn what she whispered to him, and this is for me as frustrating as never learning what Laura Palmer whispers in Agent Cooper’s ear at the end of Twin Peaks, time and time again. The hopeless romantic in me wants it to be something beautiful, but even if it is, how could a betrayal of this magnitude ever be forgiven?

So why on earth would I keep going back to this film? Precisely because I am a hopeless romantic, and have been blindsided in relationships more times than I care to admit. This film reminds me to check myself. Of course, this is a dramatised depiction of what mental abuse in a relationship is like — I use this film as protection.

The Shape of Things focuses on the nature of stoicism, art, psychopathy, intimacy, and people’s willingness to do anything for love, including allowing themselves to be manipulated and used. No laughs here then. I think this is something that not everyone realises about Paul Rudd — that he is not just a comedy actor but has brilliant, wide-ranging acting talents. He does bring his own distinct sense of humour to every film he’s in, without a doubt, but underneath the surface is an actor with a great emotional scope and an attractive vulnerability.

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I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007)

OK, let’s lighten this up a bit. My next movie of choice is the straight-to-DVD romcom, I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007). This film is ludicrous in many ways. The whole story is based around Rosie, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, who is a scriptwriter and producer for a TV show and also a single mom. When Adam (Rudd) auditions for a role on the show, she is immediately attracted to him and it appears the feeling is mutual. But Rosie, of course, doesn’t believe it because she is 40 and he is 29, and Mother Nature (Tracey Ullman) keeps reminding her that she’s becoming old and dried up. As I said, ludicrous. Like Michelle Pfeiffer would ever have to worry about being considered unattractive to younger men, as she looks as good now as she did in 20’s (clearly both she and Paul Rudd have been drinking the blood of virgins). Maybe if Pfeiffer didn’t look so ridiculously hot in this movie, it would have been more successful… who knows? I jest of course, as it doesn’t matter how physically attractive you are, watching your youth disappear can be difficult and this film resonates with me now more than it ever has before. I’m pushing 40, I’m a single mother and quite prepared for a future alone. So to have a gorgeous younger man be totally smitten with you no matter how much older you are, who adores your kid, makes you laugh til you cry, and wants to shout about it from the rooftops (or in this case by dancing foolishly in a nightclub), this is a nice daydream to have.

As throwaway films for a rainy day go, this is my number one choice. It’s funny, silly and smooshy and stars a wealth of great British talent too. I am pretty sure they were going for a Bridget Jones vibe, but Pfeiffer is just too gorgeous to pull off the vulnerability. Nevertheless, you can tell they had a laugh making it, with Pfeiffer smirking throughout and Rudd clearly cracked her up and that’s what I adore about him. On-screen and off-screen, he makes people feel good.

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Wanderlust (2012)

Rudd’s ability to make me feel good has had a profound effect on my life. Time to get super personal here for a second. I discovered I was pregnant on Mother’s Day 2012. Of course, this was the most joyous moment of my life, but what most people don’t know is that this was after five years of hoping and several failed attempts at fertility treatment, so you can multiply that joy by a million. What the hell has Paul Rudd got to do with this you may be wondering? Well, anyone that has ever been through fertility treatment or the monthly roller coaster of hope and then disappointment that trying and failing to get pregnant is, knows that this is stressful. So stressful in fact that it makes you less and less likely to get pregnant. You gotta love that irony! So this was last chance saloon, the money was gone. I needed to chill out and just take my mind off it all. So, straight after the treatment, I took myself to the cinema to see Wanderlust, by myself, which was the new Paul Rudd comedy also starring Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux. For those two hours I just laughed, lost myself and relaxed and I know this probably sounds crazy to most people, but I think all those positive feelings and endorphins helped my wonderful son arrive in this world and my dreams of becoming a mother come to fruition. It doesn’t get better than that really does it?

So those four Paul Rudd films are the ones I will turn to on a regular basis whenever I need comfort, warm feelings of nostalgia or a reality check. There are many, many more that deserve a mention though. The Fundamentals of Caring, The Chateau, Prince Avalanche, Our Idiot Brother, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and All Is Bright are great indie movies that should be watched to really appreciate Rudd at his acting best. When I want to veg out and chill The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Anchorman, Knocked Up, This Is 40 and Wet Hot American Summer are the films of choice. There is a Paul Rudd film for every mood.

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200 Cigarettes (1999)

I try to watch 200 Cigarettes (1999) every New Years Eve. It has become quite the ritual for me and reminds me of the horror of even attempting to go out celebrating, not just on NYE, but any night really. It is a great little film, highly underrated in my opinion, despite its star-studded cast which includes Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Martha Plimpton, Janeane Garofalo, Christina Ricci, Courtney Love and Elvis Costello (playing himself). The film is set in 1981 and follows several characters each spending NYE in NYC, all of them ending up at the same party. Rudd’s role as Kevin is small and his character is not particularly pleasant, but he is always fascinating to watch. Even in films that are almost universally panned, like Mute which I reviewed here, Rudd gives a performance which instantly adds brightness. It was a definite change in direction for him, playing a character that was in the end, a twisted individual. We are so used to him playing the good or at worst slightly obnoxious and annoying guy, that it was a real surprise how it turned out. We were rooting for the bad guy all along. I suspect that in the future we will see Rudd move more towards those roles that stretch his capabilities as an actor and allow him to experiment, but he will always go back to what he knows best; being a lovable dork.

That lovable dorkiness is working well for him, as his career continues, his star just shines more brightly. Now being able to add Marvel superhero to his belt, as Ant-Man he has brought a real sense of humour and fun to the Avengers franchise that was, for me at least, very dull without him. Proof then that being the good guy can reap its rewards, even in a place like Hollywood where everyone is out for themselves.

It is perhaps more important now than ever before to have someone like Rudd in the role of a superhero. In an age where our politicians, film and music stars are often publicly awful to each other and the people they serve; where social media is full of hate, vanity and violence, Rudd is a breath of fresh air and a true role model for our children. He will carry on doing what he always does, making us laugh and being the nice guy. And actually, there’s nothing more inspirational than that.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” 

Mr Anderson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)


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