06 September 2011

Our Idiot Brother

Adam Scott, left, and Paul Rudd are shown in a scene from "Our Idiot Brother."
"Our Idiot Brother" is a misleading title.

Ned, brought to life by the great Paul Rudd, isn't an idiot at all. He merely is naïve, possessed of an innocence stemming from a good-natured, well-meaning manner that completely overwhelms him at times.

Take the event at the movie's start. A uniformed police officer (Bob Stephenson) approaches Ned at his organic vegetable booth and asks to buy marijuana. Ned refuses and laughs it off until the officer appeals to his senses of compassion and trust. "It's been a really rough week," he says. Ned offers to give him what he wants, but the officer talks him into letting him buy it for $20—then arrests him after the money changes hands.

At the end of his jail term (which is shortened due to good behavior, naturally), Ned returns to the organic farm where he had lived with his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), for the previous three years. But Janet has a new man (T.J. Miller) and won't even let Ned take his beloved dog, Willie Nelson, when she kicks him out.

So Ned begins a sojourn through the homes of his mother (Shirley Knight) and three sisters—Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a career-minded journalist; Liz (Emily Mortimer), a mother and the frustrated wife of a documentary filmmaker (Steve Coogan); and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who performs terrible standup comedy and lives with her girlfriend (Rashida Jones) and several other roommates.

It would be easy to look at what occurs as Ned cutting a swath of destruction through the lives of everyone he encounters, which also includes Jeremy (Adam Scott), Miranda's neighbor and potential love interest, and River (Matthew Mindler), Liz's young son. But the conflicts arise because Ned inadvertently exposes the lies each one is living. Without meaning to, he forces everyone else to be as honest as he is [-] he doesn't know any other way.

The entire cast is exceptional. Banks, Mortimer and Deschanel make for a believable trio of sisters, while Scott, so good on the TV shows "Parks and Recreation" and "Party Down," makes the most of his brief time on screen.

Rudd, one of our best comic actors, gives one of his finest performances, clearly reveling in stretching himself beyond his usual straight-man persona. He never plays Ned as the title describes him, and the movie, directed by Jesse Peretz, and written by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz, avoids presenting him that way to the audience. All involved ensure we never laugh at Ned, steering clear of the kind of mean-spirited humor that turns my stomach.

The dramatic material is heavier than expected, and the laugh rate is not as high as several other comedies released this year. But "Our Idiot Brother" goes down in a good way, with an infectious positivity.

Greg's Grade: B

(Rated R for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout. 90 minutes.)

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