Total Recall

Total Recall: Paul Rudd's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Dinner for Schmucks star.

by | July 30, 2010 | Comments

Paul Rudd

If things had worked out a little differently, Paul Rudd might have become a huge star in the 1990s — but instead, his breakout performance in Clueless led to a brief appearance in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and big parts in a couple of forgettable romantic comedies. The decade of supporting roles that followed may not have filled Rudd’s bank account with leading man money, but they added up to an eclectic filmography — and by the time he broke out all over again as a member of Team Apatow, he was one of the more recognizable faces in the industry. To celebrate his reunion with Steve Carell (whose 10 best we counted down here) in this week’s Dinner for Schmucks, let’s take a Total Recall look back at Rudd’s best-reviewed movies!


10. The Shape Of Things

Neil LaBute has never been known for having a particularly sunny view of humanity, and he continued his savage streak with The Shape of Things when it made its Broadway debut in 2001. Adapting Shape for the screen two years later, LaBute reunited the stage production’s original cast, including Paul Rudd as Adam, a shy college student whose unexpected romance with the beautiful Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) is not, to put it mildly, what it seems. Like a lot of stage adaptations, The Shape of Things makes for occasionally stolid viewing, and that — along with LaBute’s continued fascination with human cruelty — left critics divided over its merit. For those who appreciated the film’s message, however, it hit hard, including Mark Halverson of the Sacramento News & Review, who called it “A grim and cynical but ultimately arresting exploration of personal expression and modern love.”


9. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

After scoring his big break with Clueless, Rudd worked steadily, appearing in a steady stream of films, but by the early aughts, he was arguably best known for playing Phoebe’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, Mike Hannigan, on Friends. That all changed with his portrayal of proudly perverted Brian Fantana in the eminently quotable, Will Ferrell-led ensemble comedy Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Who can forget the Fantana-endorsed horror of Sex Panther cologne? Or the way he forever changed the meaning of the word “octagon”? Even many of the most sober-minded critics were forced to submit to its charms, including Ty Burr of the Boston Globe, who conceded, “Sloppy, crude, pursuing the most far-flung tangents in hopes of a laugh, Anchorman still gave me more stupid giggles than I’d care to admit if I weren’t paid to.”


8. Diggers

Though he’s best-known today for his appearances in Team Apatow comedies, Rudd has always been a versatile actor, and in 2007, he issued a reminder in the form of Diggers, a low-key indie dramedy written by ex-The State member Ken Marino. Though its theatrical run came and went with barely a whisper, this tale of third-generation clam diggers in Long Island during the ’70s offered an impeccable cast (including Lauren Ambrose, Ron Eldard, and Maura Tierney) and a charming blend of humorous and thoughtful moments, all evenly directed by Katherine Dieckmann. It was more than enough for critics like Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News, who observed, “What separates Diggers from its kin — notably the Ed Burns movies — is the testosterone balance of its masculine script and Dieckmann’s sensitive direction. Maybe we need more buddy movies by women.”


7. The Cider House Rules

John Irving’s novels have had an uneven history in Hollywood, from The World According to Garp to Simon Birch, so when the time came to bring The Cider House Rules to the screen, he shouldered the burden of writing the script himself. The result, while not a critical home run, netted a pair of Oscars — one for Michael Caine’s supporting turn as the complex Dr. Larch, and one for Irving’s screenplay. All of which goes to demonstrate that Rudd was in good company here, appearing as Wally Worthington, a friend to the orphan Homer (Tobey Maguire) and unwitting rival for the affections of the luminous Candy (Charlize Theron). Calling Cider “a fable that turns into a 1940s New England variation on Charles Dickens,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Graham proclaimed, “It is also one dickens of an American movie.”


6. Role Models

If there are two things filmgoers can’t seem to get enough of, it’s men acting like children and children swearing like adults. 2008’s Role Models took these timeless ingredients and took them further than most, thanks to a consistently funny script (co-written by Rudd, Ken Marino, Timothy Dowling, and director David Wain) and an improv-friendly cast that included Jane Lynch and Ken Jeong. As a pair of energy drink salesman forced to mentor a role-playing teen misfit (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and a foul-mouthed grade-schooler (Bobb’e J. Thompson), Rudd and Seann William Scott didn’t have to do much more than keep straight faces while their co-stars let loose. Though some critics were unmoved by all the crude humor, most couldn’t help laughing, among them Laremy Legel of, who observed that “Role Models could have been another formulaic comedy, fresh off the assembly line. Instead, the work of Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott here is worthy of praise and one of the funnier films this year.”



5. Clueless

If things had turned out a little differently at the box office, 1995 might have been the year Paul Rudd kicked off a string of Halloween sequels with his starring role as Tommy Doyle in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. Fortunately for Rudd’s long-term career prospects, Halloween tanked; instead, it was his appearance in a little teen comedy called Clueless that proved most memorable. Appearing as Josh, the nattily attired ex-stepbrother of the endearingly shallow Cher (Alicia Silverstone), Rudd provided a voice of sarcastic reason amidst all the matchmaking and mall-hopping in writer-director Amy Heckerling’s totally ’90s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma — and gave critics like Brian Lowry another reason to call it “a fresh, disarmingly bright and at times explosively funny comedy well worth a trip to the mall, even if it eventually runs out of gas.”


4. I Love You, Man

Rudd’s third collaboration with Jason Segel, I Love You, Man reunited the Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall castmates for the story of Peter Klaven (Rudd), a real estate agent whose engagement to his girlfriend (Rashida Jones) exposes the near-total absence of male friendship in his life. Seeking a best man, he befriends Sydney Fife (Segel), a freewheeling investor who introduces Peter to the joys of male bonding — and nearly derails his wedding in the process. “It’s a thin premise,” admitted Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post, noting that “I Love You, Man features the usual quota of jokes involving masturbation, projectile vomiting and flatulence. But is it worth it? Thanks to Rudd and Segel (and some terrific cameos), totes magotes.”


3. Forgetting Sarah Marshall

No terrible breakup is complete without loads of equally terrible advice for the broken-hearted, and Rudd gave Jason Segel plenty of it as the bizarre surfing instructor Chuck, a.k.a. Kunu, in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Though certainly not one of his larger roles, Rudd’s Marshall appearance reaffirmed his gift for a scene-stealing cameo, gave him the opportunity to dispense a memorable variation on the old “if life gives you lemonade” bromide, and helped critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern admit that “Halfway through I realized that I’d lost most of my standards, maybe under my seat, and was enjoying the erratic evolution of the nonsense.”


2. The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Steve Carell’s coming-out party as a comedic leading man included plenty of seats at the table for his talented co-stars, including Jane Lynch, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, and (of course) Paul Rudd — who, as David the bitter electronics salesman, participated in some of the movie’s most memorable exchanges, and made the timeless threat “I’m going to Yah Mo burn this place to the ground.” Calling it “buoyantly clever and amusing,” Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman praised The 40-Year-Old Virgin as “a comedy of horny embarrassment that has the inspiration to present a middle-aged virgin’s dilemma as a projection of all our romantic anxieties.”


1. Knocked Up

One of an incredible six films Rudd appeared in throughout 2007, Knocked Up reunited him with 40-Year-Old Virgin director Judd Apatow for another comedic look at the battle between the sexes. As the henpecked Pete, Rudd provided the essential bromance at the heart of every Apatow movie, supplying Seth Rogen’s Ben with advice about marriage (“like that show Everybody Loves Raymond, but it’s not funny”) and a ‘shroom-enhanced trip to Vegas that helps set up the bittersweet developments of the final act. A $200 million hit, Knocked Up jump-started Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s film careers, helped return Rudd to leading man status, and earned the admiration of critics like Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek, who called it “Hilarious from moment to moment, but leaving behind both a warm glow and a sting. This is a picture that refuses to fetishize either the ability to conceive or the significance of our place in the universe once we’ve done so.”

In case you were wondering, here are Rudd’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy — 84%

2. Knocked Up — 83%

3. The 40 Year Old Virgin — 81%

4. The Cider House Rules — 76%

5. Forgetting Sarah Marshall — 75%

6. Role Models — 75%

7. I Love You, Man — 69%

8. Clueless — 69%

9. The Shape Of Things — 64%

10. Halloween – The Curse of Michael Myers — 56%

Take a look through Rudd’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Dinner for Schmucks.

Finally, here’s Rudd delivering an important eco message with the help of his pal Elmo:

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