REVIEW: This Is 40

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This Is 40
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Judd Apatow (screenplay)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow

Paul Rudd is the only main character in Judd Apatow’s latest movie who isn’t part of the comedy auteur’s actual nuclear family.  The wife (Leslie Mann) and two children (Maude and Iris Apatow) are basically playing out better-written scenarios of their lives with a cuter dad.

This makes everything about This Is 40 feel both a little weirder and a little more alive; it’s like making your family relive an awkward Christmas on camera.  Apatow is a keen observer of white upper middle class life, though his considerable success as writer, director and producer over the past few years has made his class standing considerably higher than that.  This movie is his best since his other movie with 40 in the title, albeit much more pensive and mature.

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REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay & novel)
Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller and Paul Rudd

The high schoolers in The Perks of Being a Wallflower are much, much cooler than you.  They are trapped and also largely defined by their pasts just as much as their pop cultural tastes, and so is the movie.  It is an earnest, emotional journey to the beginning of identity, and while it is engaging and at times beautiful, it occasionally bogs itself down with pretension.

It helps that it was adapted and directed by the same man who wrote the original, seminal ’90s novel, Stephen Chbosky.  The dimmed, warm look of many of the evening social scenes lend his movie version an ominous glow.  Many high school movies, especially comedies, are drained of almost any visual element, but not Wallflowers.  Some of the school scenes feel a little tight and generic by comparison, but that may be intentional.

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REVIEW: Our Idiot Brother

Our Idiot Brother
Directed by: Jesse Peretz
Written by: David Schisgall & Evgenia Peretz (screenplay)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer

Your ability to enjoy Our Idiot Brother hinges on one thing: your ability to enjoy Paul Rudd.  If you don’t like him, which is unlikely considering his career is built on being likeable, then you will not like this movie.

In this movie we find Rudd at his most laid-back and whimsical.  He is not uptight or broken like he is in movies like Knocked Up or I Love You, Man.  Here he has already discovered the man-child within.

Modern comedies are especially infatuated with hopelessly care-free fools like the one at this movie’s center.  They release a passive aura around the audience, which is odd because they often have the exact opposite effect on the other characters in their respective films.  Rudd’s Ned is no different.  Where he and his laid-back lifestyle go (in this case to his three sisters’ homes), chaos ensues.

The whimsical, Dude-esque man-child injects levels of honesty into an environment that is not built for it.  Ned’s three sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimer) are all successful in the traditional ways.  They either have a job, a couple children, or a significant other that they treasure.   However, they all betray those things in one way or another because their “idiot” brother is incapable of lying to keep the world in balance.

The screenplay alternates between making us laugh at Ned’s disruptions and making us as angry as his sisters.  What it thankfully doesn’t do is condescend to any of them.  The director Jesse Peretz seems eager to move past conflict in the screenplay, so much so that the all-too-tidy ending doesn’t feel quite as contrived as it should.  Peretz knows that his movie depends on Rudd and the rest of the cast, and allows the supporting characters (mainly Rashida Jones and Steve Coogan) to steal the comedic spotlight at appropriate moments.

Our Idiot Brother creates an atmosphere of understanding around all of its characters and their problems.  To say it is about anything other than Paul moving past a speed bump would be stretching it.  Rudd is so hell-bent on being nice that he recalls Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, a movie that this movie doesn’t aspire at all to be like but whose protagonists share the same overly-kindred spirit.

Ned finds himself in a financial pickle because he sold marijuana to a uniformed cop claiming to be having an off week.  His niceness is his problem and his family’s solution.  Peretz and the writers treat them all warmly, and allow the actors to give performances that go beyond their own cliches and into a territory that sometimes even feels real.

Someone like Ned would typically be the supporting character in a movie like this.  By putting him front and center and (sort of) exploring his necessity to be the way he is instead of letting him only tell jokes, the movie unintentionally offers a fresh take.  In I Love You, Man you wanted to follow Jason Segel’s character everywhere.  This movie lets you do that.

Grade: B-

REVIEW: Dinner for Schmucks

Dinner for Schmucks
Directed by: Jay Roach
Written by: David Guion & Michael Handelman
Starring: Steve Carell, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis, and Jemaine Clement

The mainstream American comedy is in trouble.  Like the America pre-economic meltdown, it’s been lulled into a state of laziness.  Audiences are being tricked into the same movie over and over again by slick, money-grubbing studio executives, not unlike those bankers and brokers.  And so here we are with Dinner for Schmucks, the latest comic swindler from the modern studio system.

At the helm, if it even matters, is director Jay Roach, who previously brought us Meet the Parents, a funny if not overwhelmingly original movie with a diverse cast that drew in a lot of different people.  With this movie, we get the inevitable pairing of Steve Carell and Paul Rudd, who first worked together on the 40 Year Old Virgin.

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