Our Idiot Brother
Male immaturity seems to be the only strong theme among the comedies of not the last few years. Sure, Bridesmaids attempted to establish a bit of gender equality, but that was certainly the exception, not the rule. Whether it be a slob who lost the TV-star-love-of-his-life, the potheads that get involved with the trade a little more than they’d like, or, in Our Idiot Brother‘s case, an unwillingness to abandoned the joys and naivete of childhood. There are a few other commonalities that lift these films above their peers, but one of the most important is the lead performance. If Brother had been in the hands of an actor less capable than Paul Rudd, I fear all would have been lost. Fortunately, it wasn’t.
Rudd plays Ned, a hippie, organic farmer, who’s happy to do nothing more than play with his dog Willie Nelson, enjoy the high of some decent bud and occasionally spend some time with his family. He’s so good and pure that he sells weed to a fully uniformed officer after the latter mentioned he needed it after a particularly rough week. This early scene perfectly captured Ned’s character, and the outlook for the rest of the movie doesn’t look so promising. Could anyone so dim really offer an interesting hour and a half in the theatre?
Coming off his eight month prison sentence for the drug peddling, Ned returns to his bohemian farm to find his girl has replaced him with a similar version of Ned. She makes it clear he’s not longer welcome there and he should keep moving. She’s also keeping Willie Nelson which seems to sting Ned the most. This catalyst forces Ned to venture into Brooklyn where moves around between the home of his mother and the homes of each of his three sisters. If Ned seems a bit more of an idea than a character, his sisters will further reinforce this reaction.
There’s Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), who’s playing cutthroat to get a major foot up at Vanity Fair where she works. She’s ruthless, and fully willing to skirt the edges of ethics to get what her editor wants. And there’s Liz (Emily Mortimer), the tired-looking, married mother of two, living in Park Slope where she and her husband (Steve Coogan) instill the most inane of values into their children. And lastly, there’s Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), an artist’s model, who’s taking an awfully awkward run at stand up comedy, and who’s approaching crisis at the thought of becoming serious with her girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones). There’s the soulless one, the one who let herself go, and the commitment-phobic, underachiever slut.
The script was written smartly by husband and wife David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz (the latter is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair), and Peretz brother, Jesse Peretz, directed. These three manage to steer these otherwise flat characters, and worn out ideas by anchoring the film around strong moments among those on screen, and some poignant scenes, without which, would render the film lifeless.
Ned’s innocent upsets the lives of all three of his sisters, and, as they put it, he ruins their lives with some frequency. But as a beacon of integrity, roles slowly change, almost imperceptibly, and Ned, despite his flaws, ultimately is exposed for what he is–something much, much more.
Our Idiot Brother suffers from a few of the expected bittersweet indie pitfalls you’d expect. Let me remind you it premiered at Sundance. However, the alarmingly talented cast, and sometimes wise, and generous script makes it worthy to take note of.