Mark Reviews Movies

Our Idiot Brother


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Jesse Peretz

Cast: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, T.J. Miller, Shirley Knight

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout)

Running Time: 1:36

Release Date: 8/26/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 25, 2011

In all fairness, Ned (Paul Rudd) is not an idiot. Certainly, he does stupid things, but the idiotic here is in the eye of the beholder. What's probably the best quality about Ned is that, while those around him make an effort to call him out for his dumb actions, he never returns the favor. This might also be foolish.

It's kind, though, and continues in line with the central character of Our Idiot Brother, a well-meaning, next-generation hippie who seems incapable of believing that there exists anything but the best in his fellow human being. This is a man who walks in on a married man and a woman who's not his wife standing naked in a room, and when someone else raises the probability that they were having sex, he can only go so far as to admit that he thought it might be something like that. Ned has no reason to disbelieve that the man's explanation that he simply was trying to display his own vulnerability to make the woman more comfortable during an interview.

Ned is surrounded by people of varying degrees of selfishness, who, in turn, cannot understand how a grown man could possibly still buy into the notion that people are basically decent. He has three sisters. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a magazine journalist who is so preoccupied with work that she barely notices how her neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott) will leave his apartment—even while having female company—just to help her with any problem, great or small, she might be having. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a free spirit with even a variable sexual preference (Ned announces that she once slept with their cousin; he's very proud of all his sisters' accomplishments). She has come as close as she ever has to settling down with Cindy (Rashida Jones), an attorney who supports her every whim, but is worried about moving in with her (Anyone she's ever known who's moved in with a significant other has either broken up or gotten married—which is the worse possibility Natalie leaves unspoken).

Finally, there's Liz (Emily Mortimer), a mother of two who's married to documentary filmmaker Dylan (Steve Coogan). He has become distant since beginning a project documenting the life of a ballerina, and yes, that's where the scenario of Ned walking in on two naked people comes into play. Only Ned's mother (Shirley Knight), who spoils her boy rotten, understands her only son's personality.

The problems for Ned begin right off the bat when he sells marijuana to a cop in uniform, thinking his simple sting operation is actually a cry for help. After being released from prison, Ned finds himself without a job or money. His girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) kicks him out of his home (That she winds up with a guy (T.J. Miller) who's almost as nice as Ned only makes sense, and the two men's interactions—polite duels of the naïve—provide some of the film's funnier moments). Worst of all, she keeps the dog, appropriately named Willie Nelson.

The setup, with Ned moving in with each of his sisters in succession, is rife with the possibility of situational comedy, and screenwriters Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall restrain themselves from relying on broad strokes, allowing the conflict to rise naturally as a clash between the differing personalities and life outlooks of Ned and his sisters. The script takes its time establishing the three women on an equally sympathetic level as Ned, as they fall into the same traps he does—making mistakes and being affected by elements outside of their control.

Take Miranda, who is the least identifiable of the bunch in her drive to achieve success with blinders on to everything and everyone around her. She's attempting to get a sensationalistic story out of a wealthy heiress (Janet Montgomery) who wants to put her unfortunate past behind her. After Miranda uses the details Ned learns for her story, he's left with an ethical dilemma: Keep the stranger's trust and leave his sister without an article, or betray the stranger's confidence and aid his sister. For Ned, the answer is clear, but that doesn't make the professional backlash sting any less for Miranda, who is, after all, trying to make it. Natalie and Liz have their problems, with the former finding herself in a precarious state after an affair and the latter dealing with raising two children on her own while her husband plays with a younger woman.

Ned is the film's moral center, and it's definitely an odd role in which he finds himself. Our Idiot Brother is warm and genuinely funny, and good for Ned's idiocy if that means he thinks giving people the benefit of the doubt won't always have a terrible outcome.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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