Our Idiot Brother (2011)
August 27, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Starring Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel, Rashida Jones, Steve Coogan, Adam Scott and T.J. Miller
Our Idiot Brother is the heartfelt crowd pleasing comedy of the year. It’s a very simple story about a friendly, naïve hippy named Ned who lives on an organic commune and enjoys an idyllic, simple life with his hippie girlfriend (replete with natty white person dreads) and his loveable Golden Retriever named Willie Nelson (you say the whole name when referring to him). As with most hippies, Ned has a casual relationship with marijuana and apparently believes that this makes it okay to sell to a uniform police officer. It’s questionable whether or not the officer’s tactics are entrapment or why the officer even bothers to ensnare the affable, harmless Ned with a drug bust, but it happens, despite Ned’s best intentions.
After getting out of jail Ned is forced to go live with his sisters because his shockingly negative hippie girlfriend has moved on to an equally pleasant and bearded hippie paramore (T.J. Miller) who’s winning quality is a lack of a rap sheet. Ned and the boyfriend even appear to hit it off at the same time Ned realizes he’s been romantically bamboozled.
Ned has no money and needs his sisters’ charity while culling together the funds to re-establish his off the grid hippie existence. He has three sisters; Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a rising journalist working with Vanity Fair; Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) a bisexual artist in a committed relationship with her tomboy girlfriend lawyer Cindy (Rashida Jones in greasy matted hair and oversized eye glasses and a pants suit); and Liz (Emily Mortimer) a stay at home mother married to a British trust fund backed wanna-be documentary film maker who doesn’t appear to show any real respect to anyone (Steve Coogan). Ned must rely on these people to keep him afloat and provide him with pocket money while he attempts to satisfy the conditions of his probation.
I won’t go into the details of what comes to pass once Ned is thrust upon his family, as that would ruin the fun of the movie, but I will say that Ned is a force of nature. He has no filter, he has no bad side. He is an honest, friendly guy who just wants to make people happy and live a peaceful existence. In our cut throat capitalist society Ned is like an oblivious Svengali wreaking havoc upon his unsuspecting upwardly mobile sisters who are all trying to get ahead in their lives in one way or another and Ned manages to open up massive gashes in the protective bubbles of self-delusion that they each live in, to one degree or another.
The sisters are each archetypes. The professional who is incapable of developing a meaningful relationship but whose perfect partner is right in front of her serving as a platonic best friend; The artsy but traditionally good looking lesbian who may not be as much of a lesbian as she thought she was and the sweet natured stay at home mother who can’t see what’s right in front of her, or perhaps chooses not to, for the sake of her idyllically put together family life. You’ve seen all of these women in other movies- too many to count. The one trend-bucking character in this group is Rashida Jones’ lesbian girlfriend, who is nothing but pleasant and sympathetic to Ned’s desire to free his dog Willie Nelson from the shackles of his ex’s indifference.
So while you’ve seen most of the other characters before in films, you’ve never seen Ned- At least not this degree of Ned. Ned’s only fault is that he has no faults. He is infuriatingly sweet, sincere, trusting, helpful and loving. The only thing he wants in this world is his dog Willie Nelson. Everything else can change with the tide, but Willie is embedded in Ned’s heart like nothing and nobody else.
There’s a point in the film where he has to turn down sex because it’s with a man. Ned feels terrible about this. He has to be reminded by friends that Ned is not gay, Ned is straight. It wasn’t wrong of him to turn down the gay sex. This is how infallibly and infuriatingly sweet Ned is. Paul Rudd imbues the character with such charm and brevity, such positivity that it’d be difficult to not like the film. It’s a uniquely perfect performance. He is Ned, through and through. You can see this person existing, because he’s not really an idiot. True idiots are hard to come by. Ned is a person who never grew up with spite, malice, competitiveness or drive in him. He just wants to exist and that causes problems for everybody else, who are clawing their way towards precariously perfect existences. Without Rudd’s impeccable performance none of this would be believable, script or no script. It’s the kind of comedic performance that transcends humor.
Our Idiot Brother is not a perfectly realized movie, but it is driven by a perfectly realized character, which enables me (and you, the viewer) to forgive the contrived conclusions to each respective story. Everything is wrapped up in neat little logical bows of sappy goodness that seem ludicrous by normal standards. However, as they’re set in motion by the irrepressibly positive and well meaning Ned, like him, we take it with a smile of satisfaction and pleasantry.