Our Idiot Brother
Director : Jesse Peretz
Screenplay : Evgenia Peretz & David Schisgall
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2011
Stars : Paul Rudd (Ned), Elizabeth Banks (Miranda), Zooey Deschanel (Natalie), Emily Mortimer (Liz), Steve Coogan (Dylan), Hugh Dancy (Christian), Kathryn Hahn (Janet), Rashida Jones (Cindy), Shirley Knight (Ilene), T. J. Miller (Billy), Matthew Mindler (River)
Like Paul Rudd’s titular man-child protagonist, Our Idiot Brother is sweet, shaggy, and generally likeable without being in any way memorable. Thrown together from various familiar components--some Woody Allen-ish family conflict here, a little Jeff Lebowski there, tossed together with a few lines that would feel at home in a Kevin Smith movie--it never quite coheres and instead maintains the feel of something curiously tossed off and slightly unfinished. You keep thinking that something more is going to happen, and it never really does. Instead, the script by first-time scribes Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall plays it loose and looser, scattering a number of good scenes throughout a generally go-nowhere plot that gets by--but just barely--on its affable charms.
The “idiot brother” of the title is Ned, who is played by Paul Rudd in his genial nice-guy mode (the one we saw most recently in I Love You, Man and Dinner for Schmucks). His long hair, beard, and scruffy clothing would seem to mark him as a hippie, but Ned isn’t that organized or goal-directed; you get the sense that he looks the way he does because hair cutting and shaving and finding clothes that match take too much time and forethought. Ned is not so much an “idiot,” as the title would suggest, but rather a true innocent, the kind of guy who always sees the best in everything, including the people around him, most of whom hardly deserve such consideration. Thus, he is genuinely baffled when a uniformed cop busts him after tricking him into selling him marijuana, and he can’t believe that his hippie-farmer girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) dumps him while he’s in prison, adding insult to injury by keeping their dog Willie Nelson.
With nowhere else to go, Ned moves back in his with his well-meaning, wine-guzzling mother (Shirley Knight), which brings him back into the intersecting spheres of his three sisters, each of whom represents a different state of modern womanhood. Liz (Emily Mortimer), the oldest, is a buttoned-down stay-at-home mom whose is largely ignored by her callous documentary filmmaker husband (Steve Coogan). Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is the driven career woman, trying to work her way up the ladder as a magazine journalist, even if that involves cutting a few ethical corners. Finally, there is Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a lesbian free spirit who lives in a flophouse loft and is trying to make it as a stand-up comedian. At some point or another Ned moves in with all three of his sisters, and at some point or another he does something to upend their lives. His actions are always in the spirit of honesty and decency, but they backfire no
Since Ned is such a decent guy, we always feel for him, which makes his sisters seem that much more self-centered and shrewish. And perhaps that’s the point, but it makes Our Idiot Brother feel lop-sided, both morally and comedically. Paul Rudd excels at playing likeable schlubs who keep trying and screwing up (best exemplified in his hilarious attempts at hipster speak in I Love You, Man), and when the movie works it is because his geniality grounds the forced chaos around him; one of the funniest scenes involves his feeling guilty for opting out of a threesome and having to be reassured that just because he’s straight doesn’t mean he’s homophobic. When he gets angry at one point late in the film--really, genuinely mad at the people around him--it’s an awkward moment because it feels so weirdly out of place, even if the emotions are completely deserved. The title of Our Idiot Brother would seem to invite us into the perspective of those around Ned and see him through their eyes, but they remain cartoonishly removed, little more than cardboard representations of lives misled, although it is hard to imagine that the filmmakers are holding up Ned as an exemplar of how to be. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but the film never gives any sense of clarity regarding how its pieces fit together, leaving us to wonder who the true idiots are.
Copyright ©2011 James Kendrick
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