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Entries in paul rudd (3)

Wednesday
Aug212013

In Which We Provide A Masculine Contemporary

Major Fall, Minor Lift

by SHELBY SHAW

Prince Avalanche
dir. David Gordon Green
94 minutes

Forget all the roles you think of when you think of Paul Rudd, including his memorable role as Josh in 1995’s Clueless. Now Rudd is moving on from his current oeuvre of Apatow-ridden comedies and familiar funny-guy castings in David Gordon Green’s new film, Prince Avalanche.

Alvin (Paul Rudd) works in constructing the streets of a quiet area of Texas, evident from the state’s embroidery on his work clothes. With him for the labor is Lance (Emile Hirsch). Lance is out of high school, but he has the vernacular and tendencies of a thirteen year old. He is also the younger brother of Alvin’s significant other, Madison. Madison is not around in Prince Avalanche; she is home with daughter Olive, but letters are written back and forth over this summer of 1988.

Just as Frances Ha is a film about the transgression of female friendships, Prince Avalanche can be said to be a masculine contemporary, one that is slow and steady. If watched on mute about 80 percent of the film would be mistaken for a documentary episode on the Discovery Channel.

Alvin tries to learn German in anticipation for a trip with Madison, reads mail-in magazines, builds campsites, and takes charge. There’s often a feeling of Alvin shaking his head in wonder at how Lance’s seemingly-eternal youth is channeled into dance moves and trying to score with ladies instead of how to catch a fish, set up camp, and make a general effort to become A Man. There are a lot of long takes and overall less happens than one might have hoped for, but more comes through than one may have expected.

After falling asleep in a hammock he sets up by himself - alone for the weekend while Lance tries to “squeeze the little man” in the city - Alvin's elaborate dreams go on so long that it isn’t clear whether or not he’s dreaming at all.

There is something of a music video in the attention paid to all the slow zooms and pans of Texan wildlife that more strongly resemble New England than Texas: bright flaming oranges and deep lush greens amid the tall, dark, wet stripes of endless barren trees. But it’s all left behind when Alvin’s dreamscapes delve into a deeply surprising surrealism.

The mystery of the reappearing aviator, the relationship budding between Alvin and Lance, the solitude of the nature – it all slips away as a phone conversation between Alvin and Madison plays out in clear voices over light uplifting music set to a rapid discourse through the woods. It feels like hearing a cold reading and watching something else, like being handed too much of the truth of their failed relationship, spelled out when all this time things were anything but spelled-out clearly. Prince Avalanche yields a strange and affecting climax in the most anti-climactic sense.

At the end of this sequence Alvin comes walking through the trees, blue paint dashing through the forest until, the camera tracking downwards, there is a straight blue line on which the phrase “i love you so much” is written in blue. It’s as if someone made a Tumblr gif of a film and it somehow got put into the real thing.

Prince Avalanche is not so much about becoming an adult as it is about two different men learning how to take the reins of their lives with the help of one another. There are a number of things never explained, like Alvin’s medications, or the mysterious woman who appears only to the two of them, or the truck driver who is always lugging pop and booze to them on the road.

Even Madison’s true relation to Alvin is not fully disclosed until long after Prince Avalanche has picked up. But it is this kind of floating of the story that has Green entrusting it to his audience – backing out at the first sign of discomfort or surprise makes Prince Avalanche the “weird Paul Rudd movie.” Don’t back out. Alvin may realize he’s impossible, but it doesn’t make him any less capable. Even Lance proves that.

Shelby Shaw is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. She tumbls here and twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about The To Do List.

"All Things At Once" - Tired Pony (mp3)

"The Ghost of the Mountain" - Tired Pony (mp3)

Wednesday
Jan022013

In Which Money Buys Judd Apatow Happiness

With Luxury

by SHELBY SHAW

This Is 40
dir. Judd Apatow
133 minutes

If anything, Judd Apatow should have titled his new effort This Is My Life In 2012, and not only because Apatow’s wife of 15 years is cast as the lead mom/wife, Debbie (Leslie Mann), alongside the couple’s two daughters as 13-year-old Sadie (Maude Apatow) and 8-year-old Charlotte (Iris Apatow). Alternatives such as This Is Marriage or This Is Family or even This Is Life would not have been any better.

The family in This Is 40, rounded out by the deceiving and charming Pete (Paul Rudd), is anything but typical. Sure, the daughters go through tantrums against the parents and bouts of getting along/hating one another, and there are plenty of problems stemming from woes of finances and in-laws, but this is not the average American family. For one thing, their California house is gorgeous and massive, and at one point even called out as too big for the four of them by Pete’s overbearingly dependent father, Larry (Albert Brooks), who Pete secretly continues to lend money to despite having told Debbie he hasn’t done so in years.

Despite the family’s lavish home, decorated and conveniently organized like a Pottery Barn catalogue, and the private catering for Pete’s 40th birthday party (only days after Debbie’s own birthday, which is celebrated as turning 38), and the nice cars they each have, and Debbie’s personal trainer Jason (Jason Segel), and Sadie’s random anger outburst in her walk-in closet over needing new clothes – despite all this, the family is having financial problems.

Debbie’s clothing boutique, Lulu’s, is your dime-a-dozen L.A. clothing store, something you would find in the likes of New Canaan or Katonah, and seems to be relatively new at her career. Whatever she did beforehand for a job is a mystery. Pete is a music producer, and manages the British rocker Graham Parker, whose latest album is hardly selling past 600 copies.

So how does this family of four manage to have weekend get-aways and still afford their life in-house? While, let’s not forget, secretly supplying $80,000 to Larry, in order to support him, his wife and their test-tube triplets who are always dressed in the exact same outfit? Something seems a little suspicious about their money 'woes', until at one point (late in the film) Debbie mentions how Pete’s left Sony to work on his own. So he made a lot of money in the past, I guess, and it’s lasted them through now.

Oh, and provided all of their little goodies along the way. The cars, Pete’s bicycle and matching Livestrong gear, Debbie’s trainer, and the girls’ countless personal items (including photos with Justin Bieber and the Jonas brothers, both of which are events that probably happened in the Apatows’ lives but here are simply shameless props), constitute the mere basics – This Is 40 is essentially a commercial for Apple.

It would be impossible to think Apple was not a sponsor, considering how iPhone, iPad, iTunes, iHome, etc are all used not only physically, but named constantly by the characters. Yes, many/most people own an Apple product. But the way we just end up expecting the girls to watch Lost on an iPad, or for Pete to be found playing Scrabble on his iPad while on the toilet, or for Debbie to pull out her iPhone, or jump onto her MacBook in order to see if hot-to-trot salesgirl Desi (Megan Fox) is stealing $12,000 from Lulu’s, all feels like too much of a privilege.

Is this really what being 40 is about? Having all the latest technology in a big house with a swimming pool and caterers and doctors' appointments where they all seem to promise you good fortune and good looks and good health just for showing up? I may not be 40, I may not be married, I may not have kids, but I know that this isn’t what your average household is up to. Maybe in Los Angeles or Orange County, or even Fairfield or Westchester counties on the opposite coast, but I live there and that is not even what most of those families are like.

The film is about having privilege and luxury, alongside “common” domestic problems. But it probably does not speak to the majority of families, married couples, or even 40-year-olds in the country. Debbie’s constant fear of Pete losing interest in her would insult me as a viewer if I were 40 – I am sure the majority of women that age would kill to have Debbie’s looks; in fact, I would not mind looking like that right now and I am half her age. Together, the couple effortlessly steals the attention when they are out, like something out of a bank commercial, as pointed out by an angry and outlandishly brutish parent from school, Catherine (Melissa McCarthy).

I am not even sure that kids who would see the film, for whatever reason, would be able to relate to Sadie and Charlotte. Puberty can make any adolescent seethe with unwarranted rage. Sadie comes off as simply unstable with anger when she throws tantrums over needing new clothing in her walk-in closet or hating her family for not letting her carry out a bizarre obsession with watching as much Lost in as little time as she can. Meanwhile Charlotte seems the quiet prodigy of  a piano playing and humble family caretaker, but is more of just a Shirley Temple-esque face for the screen, making “cute” kid quips about this or that, often with the kind of stilted candor only a child who hasn’t had much time to practice the lines could deliver. Regardless, my biggest question is whether all kids these days own iPads and have iPhones that their parents take away when they are grounded.

The perfect lives of the family, chipped here and there by stress from work or each other, are hardly entertaining when the ending comes together in an almost too-resolved fashion. And aside from Rudd and Mann’s good looks, their conversations feed off one another like something from improv comedy; it’s like they constantly are mocking the other’s lines, and it gets annoying quickly.

The couple seems the most genuine when either high on marijuana cookies, practicing the kind of talk their therapist suggested, or simply crying. This Is 40 tries too hard to portray what it's trying to sell itself as: the poster-child for mid-life crises, family dysfunction and love, and coming to terms with yourself in your age. It should have been called This Is What You Wish 40 Could Be, because there does not seem to really be anything wrong.

Shelby Shaw is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and artist living in Chicago. You can find her website here. She twitters here.

"What's All This Talk" - Ruby Fray (mp3)

"Barren Hill" - Ruby Fray (mp3)

Friday
Aug262011

In Which We Enunciate Our Presence Here

Dungeon Bunnies

by DANIEL D'ADDARIO

Our Idiot Brother
dir Jesse Peretz
90 minutes

Narratives about squabbling, intellectual siblings and the Judd Apatow crew of ageless male comedians both have their distinct appeals, but the uneasy contrasts at play in Our Idiot Brother mix together like chocolate sauce and horseradish. The film was co-written by Evgenia Peretz (with David Schisgall) and directed by Jesse Peretz, and the children of famous publishing figure Martin Peretz have much to say, it would seem, about the family dynamic, and seek to say it all loudly.

The film tells the story of Ned (Paul Rudd), a hippie who lives off the land before an arrest on drug charges forces him to live off the goodwill — or, at least, the largesse — of his three sisters. As an actor, Rudd is congenitally likable and the viewer is perpetually on this actor’s side: a good thing, as the script gives him remarkably little to do for much of the film’s running time.

Ned’s idiocy is frighteningly all-encompassing; he is befuddled by simple human rituals, unable to read the emotions of women he has known his entire life, and childishly unaware of the distinction between truth and lies, or between family obligation and family togetherness. Have the Peretz siblings met any of the neo-hippies currently selling organic food or toiling on farms? Asceticism in lifestyle tends to breed a keen, resentful understanding of humanity, not a gleeful disregard for its customs.

The lead character’s inability to read the number of dramas unfolding all around him yields a lot of Rudd’s sunny smiles, devoid of substance. Scenes involving each sister’s individual crises are ever derailed by Ned’s presence, as his obtuseness — perpetually three steps behind the other characters, and eight steps behind the audience — adds nothing to the film. (It does not help that Peretz seems not to have heard of the two-shot, perpetually and ineptly focusing on a single character and cutting short every conversation’s momentum.)

A film about three squabbling sisters, each in intellectual, career, family, and sexual crisis, exists. Its name is Hannah and Her Sisters. That film's plot has been rear-ended, here, by the endpoint of the frat-boy comedy vogue. Far more than a hippie, the stoned guy emotionally unavailable behind his grin that Mr. Rudd plays here is a frat boy.

What, then, of the sisters, whose narratives and whose lives Ned disrupts? The viewer remains intrigued as to how the delightfully flinty Elizabeth Banks, the watery Emily Mortimer, and the overprimped baby-doll Zooey Deschanel all came from a single genetic line, but their differences in physical appearance and acting style (Banks failing to conceal rage, Deschanel enunciating her lines as though she were a particularly sad ghost, moaning and gesticulating quietly from a dungeon on a different floor) fade away in light of their matching inability to deal reasonably with their own lives or with Ned’s presence.

Banks’ Miranda is a Vanity Fair reporter entrusted with a big story, during whose reporting she is forced, by a plot contingency, to enlist Ned as a chauffeur. Ned, of course, ruins the day — though he later stumbles upon great intel without realizing it (such is his way). Banks' talent, so often underutilized, is here overutilized. She’s annoyed! Grr! But Ned may, in fact, have saved the day! Sinister, conspiratorial look at no one! If the screenwriter Peretz’s impression of Vanity Fair reporting in real life is as scattershot as the sort of reporting-by-mood swing Miranda practices, one may be inclined to read the magazine a bit more spuriously.

Mortimer’s Liz, sporting an accent that tentatively taps on New York’s door before fleeing back to London, has a philandering husband (Steve Coogan) in a plotline that felt stale when Mia Farrow and Michael Caine acted it out in Hannah and Her Sisters. That film elevated the stock plotline with a near-poetic understanding of why people cheat, and why they stay.

This film, by contrast, casts Mr. Coogan’s Dylan as an unqualified villain and, of course, Ned as the moronic (idiot is too kind) interloper, who catalyzes dramatic motion by saying precisely the wrong thing about very obvious happenings he cannot understand. That Ned does precisely the same thing in the subplot in which Deschanel’s Natalie cheats on her girlfriend (Rashida Jones) is simply frustrating, and not merely because it further overstuffs this film with incident.

Ned’s stupidity seems less funny when it wreaks further havoc on the lives of characters who are all too able to ruin their lives independently. That would be marginally more dramatically satisfying — though Miranda and her sisters, in their derivative, self-manufactured crises that become the film’s subject, are less intriguing than Hannah and hers.

In the film’s dramatic high point — at which all three sisters coalesce into a three-headed blob of judgment and bitter recrimination while playing charades with Ned, a set of Furies unable to see that Ned’s actions only hastened their own fairly-unavoidable personal collapses — Ned explodes, his smile suddenly and without any warning from the script turning into impotent rage. His rage is unconvincing. Who could believe that a man who has not yet assumed the worst — or even the accurate and uncomfortable — about his three idle, sensation-chasing sisters has anything to say worth hearing?

Daniel D'Addario is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is a writer living in New York. He is a writer for the New York Observer, and you can find an archive of his writing here.

"Winter" - The Diamond Family Archive (mp3)

"Sleeping Under Stars" - The Diamond Family Archive (mp3)

"Crows" - The Diamond Family Archive (mp3)

The latest album from The Diamond Family Archive is titled Lakes, Meres, Ponds And Waters.