5.2

Our Idiot Brother review

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<i>Our Idiot Brother</i> review

Our Idiot Brother has this much going for it: No one can accuse the filmmakers of false advertising. The title character powers through a triathlon of stupidity, brought about at its best by good-natured naivete and at its worst by the screenwriters’ whims. The idea is that we’ll come to love the dummy by the time he’s done wreaking havoc with his three sisters’ lives. Instead, the inverse occurs—a charming initial persona crumbles under a barrage of contrivances. Any affection we might have had for the characters slowly wears away.

And the cast assures plenty of initial goodwill. If the film prompts any moral outrage, it’s that its hero was imprisoned for selling a little marijuana while the people who assembled such a stellar cast for such a dull comedy remain free. Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan and several other huge talents find themselves doing sitcom routines, like the one where each character thinks the other is talking about something else.

Rudd stars as Ned, a hippie with long hair, a bushy beard and an endless supply of thumbs-up signs. Upon release from prison, he begins a whirlwind tour of his mother’s and sisters’ houses as he tries to piece together his life while putting theirs in upheaval.

Locked up for selling pot to a police officer—a uniformed police officer whom he knew—Ned finds himself released early for good behavior. But when he returns to his farmer girlfriend, he discovers that she not only shacked up with a new man and doesn’t want him around, but also that she won’t give back his beloved dog, Willie Nelson. All his post-prison plans centered around her farm, so he enters a state of limbo.

Rudd at his best is full of wit and intelligence, but the role of Ned only takes advantage of his sheer likability. He never loses his energy, even when the limitations render him limp. He’s inherently likable, but can’t do much with a character whose modes are limited to friendly and dumb.

By design, Ned lacks the draw of iconic slackers like The Dude in The Big Lebowski, who go about their lackadaisical ways with refreshing brazenness. Rudd and director Jesse Peretz are most successful when exploring the endearing humanity behind Ned’s idiocy. In these moments, Ned isn’t simply being dumb for the sake of being dumb, but because of a resolute belief that people are trustworthy and worthy of human connection. Being propositioned for a three-way might not pique his interest, but he feels like he’s being rude if he isn’t a good sport about it.

In the opening scene, when he sells pot to that police officer, he doesn’t do it out of sheer stupidity, but because he genuinely believes the cop is having a bad day and needs a pick-me-up (of course, the policeman insists on paying, to up the charge). Ned simply refuses to suspect people of lying.

Unfortunately, the character doesn’t get any deeper than that, and screenwriters David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz find it necessary to spell out Ned’s motivation via dialogue. They then spend the rest of the film pushing him into a variety of setups that allow him to offend one sister and move on to another.

Mortimer’s character lives a bland family life with her son and her a husband, a jackass documentary filmmaker (Coogan). They are uptight, and so naturally want to raise their son to be uptight too. But Ned introduces him to kung fu movies and horseplay. The uncle/nephew relationship has the opportunity to be the heart of the film, but it quickly gets pushed aside so that each story can have some screen time.

The sister played by Banks lives alone, hoping to build a journalism career. If an ethics dilemma weren’t enough for her storyline, there’s also a subplot about her hidden feelings for her best friend (Adam Scott).

Deschanel lives in a party flat with her lawyer girlfriend (Rashida Jones in super-thick glasses), in a plotline that feels thrown in because, well, two sisters wouldn’t be enough.

The more it edges toward its resolution, the clearer it becomes that the film saved no surprises, insights or laughs for the end. The screenplay not only insists on neatly concluding each and every story, but forces an unconvincing grand gesture that’s supposed to be heartwarming and hilarious, but is so tone deaf that even a premium-quality cast can’t make it work.

Ned has a gift for getting excited about things, but not even he could get excited about this movie.