Saturday, October 29, 2011

New Release Review: Our Idiot Brother (Jesse Peretz, 2011)

Our Idiot Brother opens in cinemas November 3rd.

I like Paul Rudd. Though he plays slightly altered versions of himself in almost every film he has starred in, his largish roles in Knocked Up and I Love You, Man and his memorable support in Anchorman and Forgetting Sarah Marshall have proven he is a reliable comedic performer who portrays characters who laid-back and likeable and usually shares a great on-screen chemistry with his co-stars. In a departure from his clean-cut norm, Rudd's saint-like character in Our Idiot Brother, Ned, sports flowing long hair and a disheveled beard. I guess whether or not you enjoy this light, gentle comedy/drama comes down to how much you like Rudd’s acting style.

Ned is a kind, idealistic man who desires to help everyone and anyone he crosses paths with. His philosophy is to be wholeheartedly ‘good’ and place his trust in human beings, in the hope that natural decency will result in his kindness to be reciprocated. He discovers, in a series of mishaps, that result in him being imprisoned, losing his girlfriend and his beloved dog, and wreaking havoc on the lives of his three overbearing sisters, that this philosophy is quite unique to him.

Ned doesn’t have a mental illness (though it is claimed on several occasions that he is ‘retarded’) but he is certainly a carefree simpleton (a man-child who has never really grown up). His kind-hearted but naive personality is immediately revealed, when he is arrested for selling drugs to a uniformed police officer, who coaxes him by complaining of a stressful week and drawing sympathy. Clearly desiring nothing more than to give a desperate guy a break, Ned is a both a misunderstood guy, and sadly, a guy who seems to have values that belong in a different world. When he is released, he discovers that his former girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), has moved on (and adopted his dog, Willie Nelson) and can no longer offer him a job as a biodynamic farmer. With nowhere else to turn, he moves back with his mother and crosses paths with his three sisters.

Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a journalist for Vanity Fair working on an article that could prove to be her big break. She is single, but shares an odd friendship with her neighbour, Jeremy (Adam Scott). Natalie (Zooey Deschanel, in yet another hippie chick role) is an independent bisexual that lives with her partner, Cindy (Rashida Jones), in a large communal apartment. Though she clearly loves Cindy, she has stifled fears of commitment, turning to an artist (Hugh Dancy) for sexual relief. Liz’s (Emily Mortimer) marriage to a documentary filmmaker, Dylan (Steve Coogan), is swiftly unraveling. She opens her door to Ned, who sleeps in the same room as their son for a while, and starts working with Dylan on his documentary. Ned finds himself more involved in their lives than ever before.

Our Idiot Brother is unusual, and unfortunately, not always effective. It is amusing, but I wouldn’t say it is consistently laugh-out-loud funny. Screenwriters Evgenia Peretz, David Schisgall and Jesse Peretz (who directs the film) have done a great job unraveling the complexities of quite a lot of characters and relaying, in acceptable means, how one man can affect and influence all of their lives. Ned’s relationships to his sisters are well built – and we learn more about how they each relate as the film progresses too - but his friendship with Jeremy, his partnership with Cindy to win back Willie Nelson and his ‘new best friend’ bond with Liz’s son are all charming narrative elements.

Though he is sensitive to his sister’s problems, he tries to help out everybody involved, resulting in him disclosing secrets and causing unrest and mistrust, which he is obviously not the primary blame for. The film does become cyclical and predictable, and is all a bit too 'ho-hum'. People’s acceptance of Ned, and their decision to divulge information to him, and look for him for advice and support is believable at times, but not always so, which is problematic. I also felt like it was written with certain indie tropes in mind and perhaps tries a little too hard to be quirky and offbeat.

Having said that, I respect the film’s message and Ned’s ideology. I wish there were more people like Ned, but unfortunately in this world people like him come across as misunderstood slackers who are well meaning but ultimately useless. This is a guy down on his luck and in need of a break. Though I felt happy and content at the end of the film, I wasn’t left with a resonant lasting impression.

I’m really not sure about the casting. It was mostly very good. While I don’t particularly like any of the actresses playing the three sisters, each was well suited to their role. But seriously, how many more of these characters can Zooey Deschanel play? Steve Coogan's role, following his stellar work in The Trip, was disappointing though. The rest of the cast – led by Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and Hugh Dancy - were serviceable. While Our Idiot Brother is not fueled by a unique idea, it does try to provide viewers with something a bit different. My interest was not always invested, but there are some nice moments and some clever writing, and the film’s message certainly makes this more redeeming than most comedy farce that comes out these days.

My Rating: ★★★ (C+)


  1. Nice review Tom. Paul Rudd is terrific as the lovable, good-hearted, naive Ned. His warmth makes this a feel good film, but the annoying sisters take their toll and nearly ruin my Rudd buzz.

  2. Shoot I meant Andy! Sorry bud!

  3. I kept thinking about seeing this and I like Paul Rudd. I'll probably wait for it on TV and I'm guessing that there's a lot of people right now kind of tired of Zooey Deschanel. Myself included.

  4. Yeah, there isn't a whole lot to take out of this. It's amusing, feel-good and has a likeable protagonist with strong values, but it's a bit ho-hum. I like Paul Rudd Dan, and Steven, I assume Zooey Deschanel can only do these roles, but I'm bored of her...

  5. This movie was a fun time at the theater. You can't help but like Paul Rudd's character in this movie.

    He's a very innocent brother in his 30s that impacts the lives of his 3 sisters in dramatic ways... all the while keeping it funny.