There are a lot of men in movies—arguably too many, when you consider that male characters spoke twice as much as women in last year’s films. Men go to the moon, fix cars, and do...whatever John Wick is about, often without any input from women at all.
There are exceptions, of course, but movie men, in all their myriad forms—from damaged superheroes to sole survivors to tooth-and-nail fighters—can serve as an exhausting reminder of the toxic masculinity that is all too present in society, and that many of us flock to entertainment to escape. To be clear, this isn’t a call to ban men from the big screen, but it is an earnest plea for increased representation of a different kind of man: a softer man, a better man, perhaps.
This, naturally, is where Paul Rudd enters the picture.
In movies like Clueless and I Love You, Man, the 50-year-old actor embodies a type of doofy, sweet masculinity that’s a genuine joy to witness—even when he’s playing a floppy jerk in Wet Hot American Summer or a lazy husband in Knocked Up, there’s something ineffably charming about him that can only be described as “high-school art teacher energy.”
Rudd is pretty uniformly great in almost all of his film and TV appearances—particularly in his latest, a challenging dual role on the offbeat existential Netflix dramedy Living With Yourself—but his shining role, the role that typifies what I want all men to be, is that of hyper-earnest slacker Ned Rochlin in the 2011 film Our Idiot Brother.
Directed by Jesse Peretz, Our Idiot Brother was neither a box-office slam-dunk nor a particular critical hit—it commands a middling 51% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes—but upon viewing eight years later, it proves to be a weird little gem of a movie. It’s got a hell of a cast (Zooey Deschanel! Rashida Jones! Elizabeth Banks! Emily Mortimer! Her Majesty Kathryn Hahn as the very worst kind of organic-farm-owning white woman with dreadlocks!) and nails the oh-so-Brooklyn scene, saddling kids with names like River and Echo, and forcing them to learn to play a northern Indian flute in order to impress elementary school admissions officers.
Ultimately, though, the best part of Our Idiot Brother is the titular idiot, played to perfection by a bearded, scraggly-haired Rudd. The movie opens with “biodynamic farmer” Ned getting arrested for selling weed to a uniformed police officer (just to be nice!), sees him blunder through each of his sisters’ lives during stints at their respective homes while pining for his sweet dog Willie Nelson, and ends with him happily running a candle shop with his ex-girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend (this is queer representation, and I will not hear otherwise).
Our Idiot Brother being a rom-com, Ned finds love by the end of the film—with a beautiful, outdoorsy woman whose dog’s name is Dolly Parton—but it feels more sweet than cloying, probably because he wasn’t lacking for love at any point. “Nobody loves anything as unconditionally as Ned loves,” his sister Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) marvels at the movie’s climax, and that central thesis forms the crux of Ned’s appeal. He’s not discerning about love, doling it out to cops, ballerinas, parole officers, and socialites in equal measure. Pardon the corniness, but isn’t that kind of beautiful?
Ned isn’t necessarily a revolutionary film character—he’s a happy stoner, pretty much—but his board-shorts-wearing, “mahalo” vibe and aura of genuine kindness are strangely compelling to watch on-screen, particularly in comparison to his douchey, cheating brother-in-law (played with sleazy excellence by Steve Coogan). Ned just isn’t a fit for New York City; he was born to bumble around upstate in a thick sweater and Birks, playing fetch with his dog and assembling big salads from his own produce, and watching Our Idiot Brother will make you long for the same lifestyle.
In real life, I’d probably roll my eyes at a happy-go-lucky stoner bro who just so happens to be white, male, straight, and cisgender. On-screen, though, Paul Rudd’s legendary niceness—which is on display in a viral meme currently making its way around Twitter—shines through the caveman beard and knit beanie, turning Ned into an uncomplicated, supremely affable character I can’t help actually rooting for. In a world of men who love nothing more than to correct me about the thing I do for a living, it’s hard not to dream longingly of coming home to a low-key, blissed-out candlemaker who—and this, as Phoebe Waller-Bridge noted in her SNL monologue, is crucial—actually listens.
Why can't all men be Ned?, I wondered to myself as I scanned the latest headlines of male malfeasance. Sure, not a lot would get accomplished, but we’d have a pretty chill time.
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Originally Appeared on Vogue