A film review by Craig J. Koban September 7, 2011


2011, R, 96 mins.


Ned: Paul Rudd / Miranda: Elizabeth Banks / Natalie: Zooey Deschanel / Liz: Emily Mortimer / Janet: Kathryn Hahn / Dylan: Steve Coogan / Cindy: Rashida Jones / Christian: Hugh Dancy / Ilene: Shirley Knight / Jeremy: Adam Scott

Directed by Jesse Peretz / Written by Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall

OUR IDIOT BROTHER opens with a scene that’s so hysterically inane that you just kind of have to see it to believe it. 

During it we meet Ned (Paul Rudd), a scruffy bearded, long haired, Crocs-wearing, Jesus-crossed-with-a-hippie looking stoner/organic farmer (make that biodynamic farmer) that is selling his produce one fine and sunny day at a local market.  A police officer and an apparent friend of Ned’s approaches him, strikes up an idle conversation, and then proceeds to ask Ned where he can score some dope.  The initially skeptical Ned does not seem to divulge his sources at first, but after the cop rather sincerely informs him that he needs the weed to unwind after a very “stressful” week, Ned relents and not only gives his law enforcement friend some marijuana, but gives it to him free of charge.  The cop, however, insists on paying Ned twenty bucks for his trouble, to which they both agree.  After money and drugs have exchanged hands the clueless Ned is abruptly arrested. 

Now, one’s initial reaction to Ned at this point in OUR IDIOT BROTHER would be to label him as, yup, a complete and utter idiot.  That would be superficially fitting.  Yet, that would be the easy label for Rudd’s character, and one of the nice surprises of the film is how he comes off less as a blithering and pea-size-brained moron and more as, well, just a nice and polite dude that is perhaps too laid back, too casual minded, too well meaning, too trustworthy of others, and too disarmingly willing to get along with everyone around him for his own good.  He’s not really disagreeably dumb, just kind of pleasantly and hopelessly naïve.  That cop has to tell him not once, but twice that he is being arrested on drug trafficking; the poor sap can’t believe it.  He just kind of shrugs it off with an “aw, shucks, not again” sweetness.

It’s because of the character of Ned – and Rudd’s even-tempered charm and innate likeability – that makes OUR IDIOT BROTHER a kind of unexpectedly gentle and kind hearted R-rated comedy.  I was certainly expecting something that would be more akin to the lewd farcical extremes of DUMB AND DUMBER, but the film is as serenely nonchalant as its main character.  Ned is not a person that we are forced to like because he is so pitilessly dumb; we like Ned because he’s a really honest, forthright, and kind individual that always means well even when his actions have unintended consequences for those dear around him.  He’s a man of very limited goals and means, but where he really excels at is going with the flow, treating people well, and always - and I do mean always – telling the truth.  Part of his real problem, though, is that he is so trusting and so truthful that it nearly capsizes his family unit.  The fact that Rudd makes him oddly believable and not a one-note cartoon character is kind of amazing. 

After Ned’s unimaginably poor lapse in common sense with the cop, he manages to spend a brief stint in jail, after which he discovers that his girlfriend and fellow farmer (a very funny Kathyrn Hahn) has decided to dump him and move on with another dim-witted sap.  Ned then finds himself reaching out to his family, seeing as he has nowhere to go, and in particular he finds himself latching on to his three sisters, all of whom are, at the outset, willing to help out their needy brother.  While getting his sisters to help him get back on track, Ned has one other primary goal: to get back his beloved dog (named Willie Nelson) from his ex, which is no easy task. 

Ned’s sisters could not any more different from him.  There is Miranda (the luminous Elizabeth Banks, whose beauty is matched by her comic timing) that is a Vanity Fair reporter trying to get a big article published.  Then there is Natalie (the always sprightly Zoey Deschanel) that is an independent-minded bohemian bisexual that lives with her girlfriend, Cindy (the bubbly Rashida Jones) and “five” other roommates.  Finally, there is Liz (Emily Mortimer), the oldest sister that is married to a documentary filmmaker named Dylan (the always great Steve Coogan, who seems to be able to play contemptuously funny losers with great ease) that seems to be getting far too close and personal with the subject matter of his most recent film.  One by one, Ned manages to spend time with each sibling during the ins and outs of their days at work and/or at home, and through is own unyielding sincerity and eagerness to always stand by the truth, he manages to sabotage most of their professional and personal lives…albeit rather indirectly. 

The title of the film – directed by Jesse Peretz (THE EX) and co-written by his sister, Evgenia – is almost doubly ironic: Ned is by no means the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he is far from being a nonsensical idiot.  If anything, it is his sisters that are really the fools, seeing as they let their own inherent dishonesty and lack of willingness to accept the realities of their respective situations that get them all into serious trouble.  Ned, being an ex-convict and unemployed transient, is the easy target for Natalie, Miranda, and Liz’s mutual scorn and an equally easy target of blame.  Ned most certainly can be blamed for not knowing when to keep his mouth shut at the wrong times when it comes to the more intimate details of his sisters’ lives, but he does not engage in such behavior out of hurtful spite; he simply just doesn't know any better. 

This brings me to some of the problems I had with OUR IDIOT BROTHER: for as congenial and fun loving as Ned is, his sisters are all kind of loathsomely selfish and inconsiderate.  Ned is a carefree soul whose lifestyle of throw-caution-to-the-wind is in direct conflict with his sisters' tightly organized lives, which often reflects them being deceitful to both themselves and others around them.  They are either obsessive control freaks, misguided in their own inherent misery, or looking to blame others for their character flaws and mistakes.  It’s kind of a miracle how a calm-spoken and friendly doofus like Ned ever managed to make it out of this nut job family of miserable sisters with his faculties in check. 

The film most defiantly has a stellar cast; Rudd has been proven comic gold in the past, as has the very droll Coogan, and I've always crushed big time on Deschanel and Banks in particular as limitlessly gorgeous funnywomen with a real knack for comedy.  I liked the film’s charm and disposition, which made me smile an awful lot.  Yet, perhaps the film is too low-key for its own good: it’s kind of haphazardly paced, tonally uneven, and often segues into would-be hilarious scenes that often rarely generate mild chuckles.   The film’s conclusion – which seems to really rush to one of those insipid, TV sitcom-worthy “happy endings” where everything just seems to work out positively despite all the contradicting moments of tension that led up to such a saccharine climax – is truly hard to digest.   OUR IDIOT BROTHER is hard to dislike, being fair, but it’s also hard to entirely recommend on my part.  

The film's a lot like Ned, in a way: aimless, ambitionless, and unsophisticated, but innocently cheerful and mostly agreeable.   

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