Our Idiot Brother is definitely misleading; even the poster itself makes it look like another mundane comedy with no personality. It happens to be a well-written film with a few very funny scenes. It’s still flawed, but it proves to be just a little bit more than merely passable entertainment, though it comes dangerously close to that category—or otherwise called “disposable entertainment”. Paul Rudd plays an idiot, at least he’s supposed to be one. Unlike the world around him, he’s honest, innocent and child-like— these traits ultimately cause problems within his family. What’s most interesting is that it isn’t even really about him, so much as it’s about his family and the ugly lies and secrets we keep from one another. Ned somehow ends up tangled up in a web of family troubles, inevitably putting a heavy strain on their relationships with each other.
Almost immediately, we are shown, quite clearly, Ned’s personality: he’s a hippy with a caring, honest disposition that’s extremely difficult to dislike. Ned lives a very simple life working as a biodynamic farmer (which he’s forced to explain in one scene) with his girlfriend, Janet (played by Kathryn Hahn) and dog, named Willie Nelson—who he loves dearly, perhaps even more than his girlfriend. Unfortunately, being the kind of oblivious person he is, he sells a cop who’s “having a difficult time” marijuana, which lands him in jail. In eight months, he’s released, but comes home to find that Janet has moved on and despite his protests, keeps Willie Nelson. So, now, he’s forced to move back home with his mom and three sisters, who welcome him with open arms….at first, anyway.
Ned’s sisters are pretty much the cliches you might have imagined; they all have vastly different personalities, all having chosen very different careers and paths in their lives. One is a hard-edged, career driven journalist, named Miranda, played by Elizabeth Banks; another is a bisexual artist named Natalie, who’s played by Zooey Deschanel; and last, but not least, is an unhappily married housewife named Liz, played by Emily Mortimer. Regardless of the archetypes, they do bounce off each other quite well—the interactions and scenarios work. Paul Rudd’s performance as Ned improves the exchanges even more, where he’s the center of all of the conflict. Like I mentioned earlier, the script is indeed pretty good. Rather than focusing too much on the goofiness of Ned, it spreads it out, and we can certainly see how his behavior brings his sisters’ problems to the surface. I hesitate to go any further without giving too much away, but it’s well done.
I, like many others, still believe the film to be uneven and ridden with cliches. It seems like a contradiction, since the film is undeniably enjoyable. Sadly, unlike other comedies in recent years, this one in particular will likely be tossed into the mix of “fairly enjoyable, but only above ordinary”—if that’s truly a category. What prevents it from going any further is the lack of laughs throughout; instead, we have several pretty funny moments mixed with some mediocre melodramatics, such as the scenes leading up to the ending. Being this critical certainly sounds like I’m picking at an innocent film, even so, it lacks the comedic edge of a variety of other films. Our Idiot Brother is a nice idea, but it doesn’t push itself far enough. Truly, it tries to be both dramatic and comedic, and lacks the punch for either.