Our Idiot Brother


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Wholly dependent on audience desire to see a group of beautiful and skilled performers work on material unworthy of their talents, “Our Idiot Brother” is a wispy, featherweight sitcom in need of sharper characters and more defined conflicts. Paul Rudd trades his better-dressed and cleaner-cut Judd Apatow yuppies for a shaggy beard and a pair of dirty Crocs as the titular Ned, a biodynamic farmer whose total lack of guile lands him in the clink for selling pot to a uniformed police officer. Once released, Ned couch surfs through the NYC homes of his three crisis-prone sisters, each of whom is fundamentally more messed up than their brother.

Rudd has long been capable of projecting an effortless blend of warmth and sarcasm, but his Ned fully jettisons the latter to embody a worldview cloaked in a ridiculous cloud of naivete. A man who belongs to another time, Ned’s hippie persona is never fully convincing, but Rudd’s twinkling eyes and self-effacing earnestness project a likability that should by every measure be missing from such a clueless fool. Of course, the gears of the movie require Ned to hide reserves of wisdom underneath the layers of inanity, even though “Our Idiot Brother” is a long, long way from “Being There.”

Many laughs are engineered from Ned’s honesty coupled with the man’s facility for misusing or misinterpreting language. Since Ned takes people at their word, prevarications and cover stories spiral out of control once shared in a different context. Emily Mortimer’s frazzled denial of her husband’s affair, Zooey Deschanel’s bi-curious cover-up, and Elizabeth Banks’ true feelings about her neighbor are all aired “wrong place/wrong time” fashion by the dense Ned. These unwelcome epiphanies are meant to generate laughs, and they often do just that, but the frequency of their occurrences diminishes the surprise.

Peretz’s direction is as easygoing as Ned’s live-and-let-live worldview, and “Our Idiot Brother” coasts along, toggling among an array of stories that eventually give way to the sentimental reconciliation and mutual respect demanded by dysfunctional family comedies. Entirely too much time is spent fooling with an inane subplot revolving around Ned’s desire to reclaim his beloved canine pal, a Golden Retriever named Willie Nelson (the pooch’s more famous inspiration shows up on the soundtrack).

As idiot manchild, Ned is not quite in the league of Chauncey Gardiner and Forrest Gump, but “Our Idiot Brother” never pretends to aspire to the scope or scale of ideas suggested by Ashby and Zemeckis. Instead, the film’s manufactured roadblocks read like a laundry list of “white people problems,” spanning a range that includes infidelity, lying to loved ones, and unethical behavior to get ahead at work. Ned, of course, is above (or is it beneath?) all of this strain of poor choice-making, and “Our Idiot Brother” shambles toward a final act that allows goopy life lessons to be imparted to each of the once-spiteful but now-grateful sisters, including the dreaded line, delivered straight, that Ned’s “work here is done.” At least “Our Idiot Brother” doesn’t have a laugh track.

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