Movie Review: Our Idiot Brother
It’s good to be Paul Rudd these days. He is well-liked and gets to be in a fun late-summer release – Our Idiot Brother – with fellow actors who are likely his friends, but this time he is completely carrying the movie. Those of us who’ve liked him since Clueless are glad to see he continues to show his charm on screen, but many may long for a deeper vehicle for his talent. In Our Idiot Brother he plays Ned, a laid-back, recently released from jail (his naïveté landed him there) hippie dude who has three sisters and not a lot of ambition. The movie is clichéd, but it seems to know it and is in on the joke. The cliché is that sometimes the one we think is the dumbest turns out to be the smartest of all. His three sisters are similarly clichéd: Elizabeth Banks plays Miranda, the pretty, stuck-up workaholic who can’t get a man because of it; Emily Mortimer plays Liz, the put-upon wife who turns a blind eye to her philandering husband; and Zooey Deschanel plays the youngest, a girl who is trying to navigate her love life, complete with turning into a lesbian and falling in love with Cindy (Rashida Jones, playing the clichéd butch lesbian). Ned, of course, teaches them all something about life.
For me, the best relationship in the movie is the bromance between Rudd’s Ned and comedian T.J. Miller’s Billy. Billy is Ned’s ex-girlfriend’s new hippie boyfriend. The chemistry between the two actors is spot on and hilarious. One of the best little moments in the movie is their passive argument about how saying “Next Thursday” means something different to each of them. Small, but just an example of the gems this movie delivers, which are better than the movie is as a whole. I could’ve used more of this relationship. Ned’s relationships with the women in the movie don’t fare as well. His sister’s are all a variation on a version of a shrew, as is his ex-girlfriend. Kathryn Hahn gives a nice turn as a hippie-chick who really has anger issues, but is trying to cover them and masquerade as a pacifist. Her struggle with this results in one of the better performances in the movie.
The other rewarding relationship I could buy in this movie is between the man and his dog. Ned’s dog Willie Nelson has been living with his ex while he’s been in jail, and she does not want to give him back. Ned’s commitment to getting the dog back is sweet, and gives Our Idiot Brother one clear-cut purpose, anyway. The soundtrack, in keeping with the joke of the clichés, for some reason is heavy on Willie Nelson songs, which is certainly not a bad thing. The quest for the return to of the dog is really the only solid goal the movie seems to have.
The movie tries to make an “aww” relationship with Ned and his nephew, River (played by the really precocious Mathew Mindler). River is not allowed to eat sugar or fight or do all the things young boys are want to do, and Uncle Ned, perpetual child that he is, doesn’t go along with those parental decisions. We’ve all seen the trailer with Uncle Ned injuring the boy while they are playing, and it isn’t any funnier in the movie. This relationship did not have half the sentiment as the one with the dog. It really seems to exist as a foil for Mortimer’s character (River’s mother) to be a fun-killing shrew. That seems to be the function of all the female characters. They exist to make Ned look like the one guy who really knows how to live life (besides the criminal behavior and no money, of course.)
The movie does give the audience an insight into the life of the most trusting, clueless guy – a character none of us likely knows in real life. What would it be like to go through life that naïve? The movie does answer that question, much in the way that a movie like Liar, Liar takes the journey of a man who cannot tell a lie. Interesting premises, both, but not based on much reality. But Our Idiot Brother is a summer movie, so reality can be thrust aside for a laugh. The movie feels like a Judd Apatow outing, complete with casting the “in” kids such as Rashida Jones and Adam Scott. I’m sure the filming was a blast and I’m sure none of them thought they were making Oscar bait. If you’re looking for a laid-back, fun, last-minute summer movie, go see it. It’s not ambitious, but it’s not trying to be, and Rudd is affable and watchable.