Is it possible to show tremendous range while also being typecast? If it is, Paul Rudd has done the trick before our very eyes for the past decade-plus, playing the charming, understated funnyman in almost every movie he's been in, all the way back to Clueless.
Each time we love him, and each time there's a bit of a twist. In Knocked Up, he's the henpecked husband. In I Love You, Man he's the model fiance in need of more male bonding time. And in Our Idiot Brother, which hit theaters this past weekend, he's the quintessential lovable loser, a spaced-out stoner who is honest and genuine to a fault (and often to his own detriment).
It never seems to get old with Rudd, no matter how many times he plays roughly the same good-hearted character, and Our Idiot Brother simply continues that trend.
If you've seen the trailer for this movie, you already know how it begins. Ned, played by Rudd, is "tricked" into selling marijuana to a uniformed police officer at a local farmer's market. As a result, he's forced to spend a spell in prison, and after he's paroled, he returns to his farm to find that his girlfriend has replaced him with another clueless stoner. To make matters worse, she dispatches him from the farm without his dog, Willie Nelson.
The dog is aptly named because Ned seems to be living a Country Western tune. He's forced to turn to his mother and three sisters for support. From a distance, he's the black sheep and family screw-up, but as he bounces around from sister to sister, it's very clear that they need his help more than he does theirs.
Liz, played by Emily Mortimer, is trapped in a loveless and unfaithful marriage. Miranda, played by Elizabeth Banks, is the career-driven control freak whose micromanaging and obsession with success leads her to compromise her morals while being completely uncompromising over matters of the heart. Natalie, played by Zooey Deschanel, is a sexually confused lesbian (apparently) with commitment issues.
Ned has something to teach all of them, and the lessons usually flow from the happenstance of his oh-I-thought-you-knew honesty rather than any real conviction or plan to help his siblings. The odd thing is Ned's sisters are actually unworthy of him and his golden heart. The trio are cliches -- the souped-up pseudo-women we see all the time in run-of-the-mill romantic comedies. That little fact would be a lot more bothersome if it wasn't for the charming Ned, a caricature in his own right, who manages to keep us laughing as he migrates from sisterly couch to sisterly couch.
As you might guess with a comedy of this nature, things get really screwed up before everyone realizes how special and important Ned is to them. Eventually, a lovely bow is tied on everything There's plenty to nitpick here, even beyond the cliche female leads and the absurdity of Rudd's character, but there are plenty of laughs along the way and a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling at the end that seems to borrow in style ever so slightly from the less -- ahem -- tactful 500 Days of Summer. 30 Minutes or Less, to name one of the other big comedies of this summer season, could have used Our Idiot Brother's sensibilities, to say nothing of that film's flimsy premise.
Or it just could have used Paul Rudd. Maybe he and his agent simply choose scripts wisely. Maybe it's something else. Either way, almost everything he turns up in seems to leave you with a smile on your face.