Our Idiot Brother Review
Title: Our Idiot Brother
Director: Jesse Peretz
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy, Kathryn Hahn, Rashida Jones, Shirley Knight, TJ Miller, Adam Scott, Janet Montgomery, Sterling K Brown, Matthew Mindler
Yes, there’s the saying, “nice guys finish last,” and that’s certainly the case for Our Idiot Brother‘s Ned (Paul Rudd) quite often, but when you’re considering movies, nice movies can get a bit of a boost even when they don’t entirely deserve it. Our Idiot Brother is undoubtedly flawed, but director Jesse Peretz turns up the charm with ease, bringing the best out of his talented cast and some impressively honest, humorous and heartwarming dialogue to overshadow nearly every fault.
Ned is, well, Miranda, Liz and Natalie’s (Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel) idiot brother. Perhaps the term “idiot” is a bit harsh; Ned is just incredibly peppy and a bit too trusting. Then again, most would call a guy who opts to appease a uniformed cop looking for some weed an idiot. After serving eight months in prison, Ned is released, turned away by his girlfriend and denied ownership of his beloved dog, Willie Nelson.
With no job, no home and a criminal record, Ned turns to his family for support. Everyone welcomes him with open arms, beginning with his mother. However, Ned’s happy-go-lucky ways have the tendency to get him in trouble, forcing each of his sisters to eventually kick him to the curb and send him onto the next.
Our Idiot Brother straddles the line between character piece and ensemble film. The opening scene is absolutely perfect. We meet a friendly, loving and, unfortunately, too understanding Ned who hands over some rhubarb and a bag of weed to an officer who claims to be desperately in need of a high. Sure, it was a dumb move, but the scene solidifies Ned as the victim, earning your sympathy within minutes. Post-title card it’s rubbed in a bit more as Ned heads back home to his biodynamic farm and girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), to find that she’s shacking up with another man, Billy (TJ Miller). While these subsequent moments aren’t nearly as tight as the initial introduction, Janet and Billy make for amusing oppositions.
From then on, Our Idiot Brother is an ensemble film and the adjustment can be a bit jarring. This portion of the piece is just as enjoyable, it just takes a little time to switch gears and spread your attention to a group rather than just giving it all to our main man. However, the well-established family dynamic certainly eases the transition.
Each of Ned’s sisters rocks a stereotype; Miranda is the grueling workaholic, Liz the hovering mother and Natalie the more free-spirited of the bunch. Not only do each present engaging solo situations, but the relationship between the three is impressively authentic. Plus, each has a unique connection to Ned. The variety creates a multi-dimensional depiction of the family that really makes you feel like you’re part of the bunch, rather than someone in a theater getting a fleeting peek into their lives. The only one that gets thrown to the wayside is the mother, Ilene (Shirley Knight). While she is the one to catch Ned when he falls just after getting out of jail, once he makes his way to his sisters, Ilene is completely forgotten until well into the film and, even when she is re-introduced, her impact is minimal.
This isn’t much of an issue as Ned’s sisterly trio offers more than enough idiosyncrasies to keep you entertained. There are a handful of particularly amusing moments involving Liz’s son, River (Matthew Mindler), the best of which comes during a private school interview. Banks is superb as the snippy magazine writer desperate for a big scoop, as she manages to earn some sympathy even while resorting to some dishonest tactics. Natalie is probably the least interesting of the three, as her predicament isn’t presented in as profound a fashion as it deserves and partially because she’s slapped together with a tactlessly dressed girlfriend. (Rashida Jones).
Our Idiot Brother also comes with a few believability issues, either because something is just downright impossible or because it’s not backed with enough information. Liz and Dave’s (Steve Coogan) relationship isn’t established well enough to make Dave’s mean streak passable in the least and everyone’s eagerness to just blame Ned becomes a bit too predictable. The film is also lacking in transitions, bopping from sister to sister to Ned and back again with abandon. Oh, and nobody would ever allow a child, let alone a dog, to visit a man in prison.
Sure, when you think about it, these problems could be off-putting, but Our Idiot Brother is so well paced and the humor ever flowing that you won’t have the chance to think twice about anything – at least until after the credits. This is certainly a film about a dysfunctional family, but, even when they’re at their worst, this is a group that’s particularly pleasant to spend time with, especially Ned.