Movie Review: Our Idiot Brother (2011)
As Hurricane Irene pummels the east coast with heavy downpours and strong winds, massive evacuations are being held all over New York City. Thankfully, unlike the more privileged, who are grabbing their poodles and running for the hills, hardened Brooklynites (myself included) have been largely unaffected by the mayhem, continuing to fear only bills and commitment. And with all public transit being shut down and no car readily available, it seemed like a trip to the local cinema was in order. And as it turns out, I came across an incredibly pleasant surprise. Jesse Peretz’s Our Idiot Brother, being made of nothing but concentrated sunshine, rainbows, and pinch of lighthearted family drama, turned out to be the perfect antidote to an otherwise dreary Saturday afternoon. This honeysweet picture is penned by Perez’s sister, Evgenia, and her partner, David Schisgall, and stars funnyman Paul Rudd in the lead. Probably inspired by Evgenia’s brother’s youth (it’s reported that he went through a “Grateful Dead hippie phase,” and spent his time preaching about peace and love), the Role Models star plays Ned, a calm and loveable (albeit clueless) organic farmer, who after selling marijuana to a uniformed cop (Bob Stephenson), lands in jail, and is eventually released to the news that his former spark, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), has found a new lover, the dimwitted Billy (T.J. Miller), and that he’s been fired. To make matters worse, his golden retriever and best friend, Willie Nelson, is being kept captive by the duo.
So homeless and without his confidante, Ned hangs onto Billy’s proposition that if he brings back enough money, they’ll allow him to rent out the goat barn. In the meantime, however, the loveable blockhead plans to live in with each of his three sisters. At the first house, there’s Liz (Emily Mortimer), and her husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan), a pair of overprotective parents who baby River (Matthew Mindler), their son, who isn’t allowed to watch television, allowed only one muffin a week, and is enrolled in ridiculous dance classes. During his stay, Liz entrusts Ned to keep an eye on the boy, while Dylan, unwillingly allows his brother-in-law on the set of his new documentary, which chronicles the artistic oppression of a Russian ballerina, Tatiana (Lydia Haug). At the second house is Miranda (Elizabeth Bank), an entertainment journalist who has both smarts and good-looks but remains single because of her bossiness. Lastly, Ned visits Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a lesbian and amateur comedian who lives with her significant other, Cindy (Rashida Jones), a successful lawyer. During his antics, he accidentally exposes that one of the sisters is being cheated on, the other is doing the cheating, and the last is about to exploit one of her clients. This ignites quite the family feud. Luckily, Ned has his sarcastic parole officer, Omar (Sterling K. Brown), there for support.
Our Idiot Brother borrows liberally from other comedies and is chock full of clichés. It’s one of those feel-good-movies where the family members slowly begin to unravel the genius behind Ned’s inability to fib or live in the adult world and eventually start to appreciate him as more than a bearded stoner who always stirs up trouble. That being said, this is like the last family outing of the summer; everyone is acting nicer than you’d expect them to, but, at the same time, you can’t help but accept their warmth — no matter how forced it may seem. And if there’s one thing about this production, it’s that it’s astonishingly inviting. In one way or another, each and every character is likeable in his or her way. For starters, Zooey plays her role with a cutesy charm, Coogan briefly reprises his hilarious accents from The Trip, Jones, aces her character’s free-spirit, and Peter Hermann, starring as Terry, Miranda’s neighbor and close friend, has a sarcastic flair. But it’s really Rudd who carries the film. Given the actor’s natural charisma, it’s no wonder that his character was written specifically for him. And he delivers. Here, the actor is as unpredictable as he is loveable. For lack of a better comparison, he’s like a stray puppy that you can’t help but bring home, fully knowing that, one day, he’ll terrorize the place.
But as I write this, the rain is coming down, anxious New Yorkers make one last trip to the supermarket, and news reporters predict a near-apocalyptic scene. Though, as close as impending doom may be, I can’t help but be enlightened by Ned’s personal philosophies. At one point he mentions that, if you trust that everyone you speak to has good intentions, they’ll most likely come through and try to uphold that respect. It seems that the same applies to the film itself. Instead of picking apart Our Idiot Brother for its blaring faults, I couldn’t help but sit and enjoy the almost inhuman innocence.