Our Idiot Brother

© 2011 Ray Wong

Here's a summer comedy that is tailored for Paul Rudd (well, sort of) to capitalize on his boyish good looks and affable charm. So naturally, he plays an "idiot."

Ned (Paul Rudd) is a happy-go-lucky guy who enjoys his guilty pleasure: marijuana. His major flaw? He trusts people too easily; he's gullible. After Ned was entrapped and imprisoned for "dealing," he loses his girlfriend, job and home, and needs a place to stay. Naturally he turns to his family, which includes sisters Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimer).

Soon Ned is entangled in his sisters' tangled lives. Liz is an unhappy housewife married to a selfish jerk (Steve Coogan). Natalie isn't sure about her sexuality even though she's in a loving lesbian relationship with lawyer Cindy (Rashida Jones). And Miranda is a demanding, ambitious journalist who has no time for romance. While they all love Ned, they all have their own problems and can't really handle their idiotic brother, who has a problem of speaking what he thinks, uncensored.

Ned's child-like demeanors and simple world view soon unravel his sisters' worlds. Ned's penchant for the truth is at odds with his sisters' deceptions: Liz is in denial about her marriage; Liz is compromising her integrity just to get ahead at work; and Natalie cheated on Cindy. Even though they hate Ned for "ruining" their lives, eventually they realize it's all for the best and they begin to learn something from their idiotic brother.

Paul Rudd (How Do You Know?) has made a name for himself for playing the dorky but cute boy next door. In Our Idiot Brother, Rudd plays the title role and turns up his affability to full throttle. As perpetual stoner and man-child Ned, Rudd is extraordinarily charming and sympathetic, even though sometimes you really do want to slap him silly and say, "Grow up already!" That's a good thing.

The trio of sisters have very distinctive personalities and they're well portrayed by three capable actresses. Elizabeth Banks (The Next Three Days) plays a similar character as her Emmy-nominated Avery in 30 Rock, but she does it so well. Zooey Deschanel ((500) Days of Summer) also plays a role that is similar to Summer (albeit a bisexual) and does a good job. The more complex role belongs to Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island), however. Her vulnerability and anger come through in a character who is deep in denial and low self-esteem.

Rashida Jones (The Social Network) is excellent as Natalie's bossy but kind girlfriend. Steve Coogan (The Trip) sinks his teeth in the role of an ultimate douche-bag. Adam Scott (Piranha), as Miranda's neighbor, adds a bit of sex appeal to the production.

Written by David Schisgall, Evgenia Peretz and directed by Peretz's brother Jesse (The Ex), Our Idiot Brother has a loose, character-driven plot that is centered on Rudd's character, surrounding by his sisters and their extended family. The plot is not really linear, but it does progress, with a central question: Is Ned really an idiot? The obvious answer is "yes," as the audience and Ned's own family can attest. But soon we find that everything is relative. While everyone around Ned seems to have it all together, they are far less happy and fulfilled, and they don't connect to others the way their idiot brother does. Fortunately, Peretz doesn't beat us in the head with that message. Instead, she lets the story and the character brings that across.

Granted, the characters and story can be frustrating at times. I mean, seriously, Ned is in his 30s and can he just get a grip? Is his brain really so baked that he can't tell what can harm him? Even an 8-year-old child seems to know better. In that regard, the character is rather frustrating to watch, even if we wish him the best. There are other inconsistency (for example, if Ned has a big mouth, then why would Natalie tell him her secret and then expect him to keep it from Cindy?), plot holes and contrivance.

The direction has an independent feel to it, which is actually an asset. The film is laid back and fun, much like the central character, and the story moves along well enough. Even with a large cast of supporting characters, we're never confused and the focus always rests on Ned: his influence on others and their reactions to him.

Our Idiot Brother is a nice, funny, small film with some stars in it. Could it be better? Definitely (it could, perhaps, use more obscure actors instead of all-to-familiar faces). But it's an entertaining, character-driven family comedy and there's nothing idiotic about that.

Stars: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Rashida Jones, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Adam Scott
Director: Jesse Peretz
Writers: David Schisgall, Evgenia Peretz
Distributor: Weinstein Company
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout
Running Time: 90 minutes


Script – 7
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7

Total – 7.2 out of 10

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