On DVD: Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd gets a lot of love from moviegoers, just not enough love. It’s not a wayward assessment to say that other than (arguably) Steve Carell, Rudd is the best actor doing comedy right now, in the sense that he could do so much, but he sticks to the joyful life of comedy. Thankfully he’s darn good at it.

Rudd plays the comedy everyman (“Role Models,” “I Love You, Man,” “Dinner for Schmucks”) as good if not better than anybody in today’s comedies, yet no one’s surprised when he takes a role like that of Ned in “Our Idiot Brother” and hits a home run with it. That’s because he’s always taking risks and offering something different when he’s not the lead. “Our Idiot Brother” gives us the best of both Rudd-worlds.

Jesse Peretz’s film also exists in an uncomfortable middle ground between modern comedy and indie family dramedy, which would explain why it has been met with mixed criticism. It succeeds mostly when looked at as a simple comedy with honest truths and strong performances.

Ned is a pretty complex idiot. Peretz built the character and Rudd builds his performance around his “benefit of the doubt” world view, and it makes Ned different from that dumb character you’ve seen before, though certainly pieces of his personality will feel familiar. His dumbness is quite believable, which says a lot considering the film opens with him selling pot to a uniformed police officer. Perhaps the difference is that he doesn’t sell right away, he gives it to him, but the officer can’t make the arrest unless he sells it, yet he manages to convince him to ask for money in return. Whole other idiocy ball game.

The comedy has a fairytale structure as Ned must rotate between living with his three sisters: Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) the strong-willed independent journalist, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) the spontaneous lesbian stand-up comic and Liz (Emily Mortimer) the hardened mother of two with an emotionally unavailable husband (Steve Coogan). With a reluctant sense of obligation, they all give him things to do and of course a place to sleep.

So it goes that Ned finds a way of making their lives more difficult either through ignorance or some other means and they harshly overreact and blame Ned because they’re all kind of selfish. You can see it all unfolding, but Rudd has such charisma and these actresses are no slouches. Deschanel and Rashida Jones might not make the most convincing lesbians, but the film never falls apart thanks to poor characters. Without them, it would be hard to look past the obvious conventions, but they and the general high jinks Ned finds himself in keep you smiling.

There’s a definite comfort in this family redemption story no matter how many times you see it. What makes “Our Idiot Brother” different is that character fullness. Instead of writing in one-liner jokes, Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall focus more on humorous situations. Although not wildly original, the actors step in and give them that fun genuineness that makes you want to see things roll out how they do, even if you know exactly how it’ll happen.

The optimism Ned preaches guides the rest of it from there. The scenarios feel less contrived and more like sincere approaches to the question of how someone who’s so honest and looking to appease yet so ignorant of consequences would cause himself problems. His sisters’ reactions might be overblown, but the conclusion ends up quite sweet. Those who don’t corner the film into comedy or indie comedy/drama will find it hard not to be won over by this film and especially Mr. Rudd.

3.5/5 Stars

Our Idiot Brother
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Written by Jesse Peretz, Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer


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