THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"OUR IDIOT BROTHER"
Paul Rudd is both an idiot and a brother.
The premise of Our Idiot Brother makes it sound like a wacky comedy and, in fact, that's exactly how the movie is being (mis-)marketed. In actuality, it's more of a drama with some comedic moments scattered throughout. The film debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival and has the feel of an indie picture that just happened to land some big comedy stars. The emphasis is not so much on laughs, but on exploring familial relationships. It achieves some degree of success on both those counts, but the degree wasn't quite high enough for my taste.
Paul Rudd stars as Ned Rochlin, one of those modern day hippies. Not a flower child, but the sort of person who wears hemp, eats organic, and doesn't believe in the concept of “shaving” or “haircuts.” In the opening scene, he gets busted for selling pot to a uniformed police officer. Ned isn't dumb, he just takes everyone at face value, which often gets him into trouble. After release from the slammer, his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) dumps him. Left with nowhere to go, Ned takes turns staying with his sisters. Liz (Emily Mortimer) is unaware that her husband (Steve Coogan) is fooling around on her. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is an aspiring Vanity Fair writer desperately trying to get a celebrity to open up about a big scandal. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is sexually liberated and currently in a same-sex romance with a lawyer named Cindy (Rashida Jones). Ned bounces from house to house because he ends up causing big problems for each sister he temporarily boards with. They blame his naivety for their own problems, when in reality he's only responsible for his own.
By far, the best thing about Our Idiot Brother is the cast. Everyone gives a strong performance, most notably Rudd. I guarantee you know someone like Ned – someone who is just a little too out of step and free-spirited to keep up with the rest of the world. Rudd brings a great deal of humanity to a character that could have come off as simply a moron. He is ably backed up by his female co-stars. It's rare to see a movie with a strong female character; this one has several of them. Mortimer is effectively vulnerable as the cuckolded sister, Banks does terrific work as a high-strung type-A personality, and Deschanel makes the sexually adventurous Natalie fully dimensional and not just a tramp. The actors have a number of very good scenes together. It's entertaining to see how they react to one another. I'm always a fan of watching skilled performers interact in service of a plot. On that count, this movie scores.
I just wish that the plot actually went somewhere. It doesn't. Our Idiot Brother seems to want to say something about the act of scapegoating in families. There is sort of a point about that in the last act, yet the preceding events don't really build as vividly as they should to make that point hit home. The movie has a meandering quality that ultimately slows it down. Ned wanders from subplot to subplot, essentially doing the same thing each time: negatively impacting his sisters through his overly-simplified view of life. It might have helped if the film had been a little longer and made the sisters as central as Ned is. Instead, it wants to illuminate them by highlighting Ned, when it would have been more effective to illuminate Ned by highlighting them.
In addition to admiring the performances, I did laugh a few times. The jokes are quieter and more restrained than you might expect, though. This is not your typical broad Paul Rudd comedy like Dinner For Schmucks or I Love You, Man. Honestly, I wish Our Idiot Brother was a little funnier and a little more in depth than it ultimately is. There are simple pleasures to be found. Not enough of them to make for a completely satisfying experience, though.
( 1/2 out of four)
Our Idiot Brother is rated R for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.