Paul Rudd, the Heartthrob Who'd Rather Be Funny

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 19, 2009

Let's imagine a convention of Paul Rudd fans:

There's lots of spittle, spraying from the mouths of "The 40 Year Old Virgin" fans who jab at each other and say, "You know how I know you're gay?" then laugh hysterically. There's a bunch of 26-year-old women who secretly watch "Clueless" whenever it's on TBS, which is at least twice a week. Guys wearing Sex Panther cologne are here, plus "Reno 911" acolytes, and that weird co-worker who owns all the "Friends" DVDs and talks as if it's still on the air. Throw in the Shakespeare buffs and the one person who remembers that Rudd was in "Cider House Rules," and suddenly everybody you know is present.

If we were to give this convention a keynote address, here is what it would be:

"Character Actor With a Leading Man's Face: How the Erstwhile Next Big Thing Became a Funny Supporting Thing, Then Finally a Funny Big Thing."

* * *

"In college I had this friend who would come up with certain terminology and everyone would use it. . . . Everyone kind of spoke Dave Dorothy language," says Rudd, 39. He's eating brunch at a diner in New York's Meatpacking District, and talking -- in a roundabout way -- about his latest project, "I Love You, Man," which comes out tomorrow. Rudd lives with his wife and 3-year-old son a few blocks from here, and today he's dressed like your husband dresses on the days when he just pulls a wrinkled sweater off the floor. This feels appropriate since Paul Rudd is the guy every single woman of a certain age wants to marry.

"Like imbe-." Back to the terminology. The imbe- prefix, Rudd explains, could be added to any noun to imply that the thing looked dumb. "A grown man wearing his socks pulled up to his shorts, that became 'imbe-socks.' . . . I would adopt [the lingo] when I was around them. Oh look. Imbe-hair. Ha ha ha!"

This, essentially, describes the plot of "I Love You, Man."

Not outwardly. Outwardly, the movie is about real estate agent Peter (Rudd), who gets engaged (to Rashida Jones), then realizes that he doesn't have any guy friends to serve as best man. Let the man-dates and bromance commence. Throw in Lou Ferrigno.

But the movie is really about the difficulty of making new friends, especially for nice guys who are deeply uncomfortable calling beers "brewskis" but who understand that mastering such terminology is necessary to cultivating straight male relationships. In "I Love You, Man," Rudd is this awkward guy. Jason Segel ("Knocked Up," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") is his boorish platonic soul mate.

The plot all fits into a genre that -- thanks to the current Judd Apatowian man-toddler craze -- some clever critics have described as "kidult." This word makes Rudd put down his forkful of eggs and snort. "Kidult. It sounds like something my grandmother would have made for Purim. Would you please pass the kidult?" Then he laughs at his own joke. Then he mocks himself for laughing at his own joke. Then he laughs again, collapsing helplessly into the vinyl booth.

Rudd's self-effacing self-awareness is what makes "I Love You, Man" work -- what makes it, despite a few dog poo jokes, actually feel smart. And more important, true to life.

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