He's not heavy, but his sisters are
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, Aug 26, 2011
"Our Idiot Brother" turns out to be mistitled. It should be called "The Brother We Treat Like an Idiot," and that goes as much for the filmmakers as the dysfunctional family at the core of this easygoing misfire. Paul Rudd plays Ned Rochlin, a perpetually blissed-out biodynamic farmer who in the film's first scene sells pot to a police officer. When he gets out of jail, he embarks on a serial-crash with his three sisters, upending their lives with his anarchic honesty and unbridled naivete.
Peeking out from a curtain of shaggy hair and a beard, Rudd invests Ned with every ounce of the effusive, natural warmth that has become his trademark. And like so many movies in his career, he makes "Our Idiot Brother" much more tolerable than it deserves to be. Screenwriters Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall play up Ned's innocence by making his sisters thoroughly unappealing: Emily Mortimer plays a dowdy, sad-sack hausfrau married to a pompous documentarian (played with withering contempt by Steve Coogan); Elizabeth Banks flails in a misguided brunet pageboy as a ruthless Vanity Fair reporter; and Zooey Deschanel lends spaced-out self-absorption to a lesbian tempted by a similarly navel-gazing male artist.
Director Jesse Peretz happens to be the screenwriter's brother, but surely he's no idiot. Still, one wonders whose idea it was that Deschanel's partner - played by Rashida Jones - would take her sartorial style points from Urkel. Or whether the scene-stealing Kathryn Hahn, as Ned's witchy hippie ex-girlfriend, had to be such a witch. "Our Idiot Brother" holds Ned up as a paragon of decency and trust, to the point where in one scene, he cheerfully asks a guy on the subway to hold a wad of cash - and the man does, gobsmacked. As Ned himself says, if you give people the benefit of the doubt, they'll live up to it. But the filmmakers are so intent on demonizing everyone else in Ned's life that it suggests they don't believe their own tag line.
There are times when "Our Idiot Brother" possesses a loping, genial sweetness. But it lacks conviction, and it doesn't hold a beeswax candle to such similarly themed films as "You Can Count on Me" and "Momma's Man." Rudd has created a genuinely engaging character in the Candide-like Ned, but "Our Idiot Brother" gives him very little garden to cultivate.Contains sexual content including nudity, and profanity throughout.