Our Idiot Brother
Details: (M), 95 mins, In Cinemas 3 November 2011, United States, English
Synopsis: Ned Rochlin (Paul Rudd) chooses to look for the good in every situation and the best in everyone he meets, which often puts him at odds with the world around him – especially his family. After all, what can you say about a guy who is quite easily tricked into to selling pot to a uniformed police officer? Upon being released from jail, Ned excitedly returns to the organic farm he shares with his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), to find that she has thrown him out, and more importantly won’t give up custody of his beloved dog. Without a house, a job, or a clue about how to get his dog back, Ned seeks shelter with his begrudging family.
Weak script outweighs solid performances in stoner comedy.
Ned, played with puppy-boy charm by Paul Rudd, is the idiot of the title but he’s no fool: he’s a sweetheart in a world of egotists and crazies. He’s guileless to the point of dangerous. He’s so honest and nice he’s constantly getting people – mostly his three sisters – into all kinds of trouble. He’s also a danger to himself. Soon after the opening titles, Ned is doing a little time for selling weed to a cop. The cop was in uniform at the time. He sold Ned a sob story about how he was doing it tough, needed something to wind-out with. Ned is, in other words, a goof with a heart of gold unwilling to see other’s self-interest, even when that same self-interest is staring him the face.
Once Ned gets out of the slammer he’s homeless. (His girlfriend has taken up with another guy.) So it falls to his mother, played with the kind of suffocating kindness that would drive anyone crazy by Shirley Knight, and then his three sisters to help him out with bed and board while Ned gets his life sorted. Since Ned is a lovable ‘nuisance’, none of his siblings are keen and besides they all seem to live, at least on the surface, fulfilled, busy and rich lives. Ned’s three sisters are: quasi hippie Liz (Emily Mortimer), the eldest, married to sleaze doco maker Steve Coogan. She hides her lack of satisfaction behind a veil of dignified political correctness; Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a Vanity Fair gossip muckraker. She’s bitchy-cool, unhappily single but determined to mask her hurt pride behind a wall of ‘high-standards’ and a precious independence; and then there’s youngest sister Natalie, played by the terrific Zooey Deschanel. She’s living in a same-sex relationship with lawyer Cindy (Rashida Jones) and trying to break into comedy and failing at both since she’s got a self-esteem in free-fall and a wandering libido that crosses all gender lines.
Director Jesse Peretz and screenwriters Evgenia Peretz, (his sister) and David Schisgall (her husband) buy into some wholesome pieties, even while they’re piling on the sense of personal corruption that leaks all over this movie. Here charity begins at home alright, especially if you can take all the angst, torment, and humiliation that comes with it!
Like so much recent American cinema, Our Idiot Brother is a ‘therapy’ movie. Ned’s foot-in-mouth one-liners and embarrassing admissions and solicitations take on – for his sisters – the same role as a shrink’s barbed insights; the sister’s are humbled into a kind of decency and their true selves are revealed to each other and the world by virtue of Ned’s impulse to do good.
Lugubrious, bumbling and sit-com predictable, Our Idiot Brother has a couple of good ideas, no style, an episodic structure and some charming incidental pleasures, not the least of which are the performances, which are good, and that’s high praise, since the script is mostly a gag-free zone.
Still, there’s something compelling about a movie that concerns itself with integrity and the seemingly infinite capacity for our friends and family to engage in what this writer likes to call ‘emotional audits’ as a way to defer scrutiny over their own choices.
Yet there’s something a little cruel about this picture, too. It isn’t just the convenience of having Ned come out ‘clean’ (he never learns from his social and emotional missteps, even if they cause great harm). It isn’t even in the slightly distasteful idea that to live well is to live honestly, and that’s somehow easy. What’s off-putting about the film’s morality is the suggestion that the sisters were unwilling to compromise their own goals by being ‘nice’ because well, ‘nice’, is not ‘cool’. In a teen movie, that kind of neat little tag is appropriate, even wise. But this movie is supposed to be about adults and their choices. It’s a trashy sensibility that by implication reduces us all to the level of a fan-boy (and girl) T-shirt.
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