Our Idiot Brother ** ½
Directed by: Jesse Peretz.
Written by: Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall.
Starring: Paul Rudd (Ned), Elizabeth Banks (Miranda), Zooey Deschanel (Natalie), Emily Mortimer (Liz), Adam Scott (Jeremy), Rashida Jones (Cindy), Steve Coogan (Dylan), Kathryn Hahn (Janet), T.J. Miller (Billy), Shirley Knight (Ilene), Matthew Mindler (River), Hugh Dancy (Christian), Lydia Haug (Tatiana), Janet Montgomery (Lady Arabella).
It’s hard to dislike a movie like Our Idiot Brother, because Ned, its main character, is so sweet, innocent and naïve and is always smiling that you simply want him to be happy. He’s completely clueless, but also completely likable. In the film’s opening scene, he sells pot to a uniformed police officer, because he tells Ned he is having a bad week. Even when the cop arrests him, Ned finds it impossible to be angry with him – after all he’s just doing his job. When he gets out of prison a few months later (bragging that he won an award for “Most Co-operative inmate” four months in a row) and tries to return to his life on an organic farm with his girlfriend Janet, and their dog Willie Nelson, he finds that she has moved on without him – and intends on keeping the dog. But hey, she’s got the right to be happy, right? And her new boyfriend seems like a nice guy. All he really wants is the dog. So now, without a place to live or a job, he is forced to depend on the kindness of his three sisters – where his sweet, innocent, naïve nature throws their lives into chaos. Not because of any intent on his part, but because he is guileless – he believes everything that people tell him, and cannot lie his way out of anything.
To be clear, Ned doesn’t really do anything wrong. It is not his fault that he finds out that his sister Natalie has cheated on her girlfriend and winds up pregnant. Or that he discovers that Liz’s husband Dylan is cheating on her with a ballerina. Or that he gets information out of a rich socialite that his sister Miranda cannot get out of her – but refuses to say that he was told so “on the record”. Ned just finds it impossible to lie – the least bit of pressure on him and he crumbles.
As played by Paul Rudd, Ned becomes one of the most likable characters in recent memory. Everyone likes him – even his parole officer, who likes no one. As an audience member, I was disarmed by Ned the same way most of the characters in the movie are. It’s rare in these cynical times to find a character who is so trusting and sweet and innocent who has not been trampled down by life. Rudd is such a gifted comic actor – and so naturally likable in the first place – that you cannot help but be won over by him. And the rest of the cast is pretty good as well – from Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel as his bossy sisters to Steve Coogan, playing the Steve Coogan role of self obsessed asshole, to TJ Miller as his exs dopey new boyfriend, who shares a lot in common with him, the entire cast is likable.
At the top of my review I said it was hard to dislike a movie like Our Idiot Brother because Ned was so sweet and innocent that you cannot help but feel for him. That’s true. But it’s also hard to become truly involved in the plot of the movie for the same reason. The film seems to manufacture conflicts for Ned to get in the middle of, and it doesn’t quite feel natural. The movie is a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes, but nothing more. Still, I can’t help but hope that everything works out for Ned.