With One Day still showing no signs of coming my way and The Debt not here yet, there wasn’t anything that really interested me this week. Columbiana is just Taken starring Zoe Saldana, Conan is like an ad for steroids and full frontal lobotomies, and everything else has been around for a week or more, so I went with Our Idiot Brother, mostly because I know I like Paul Rudd. The storyline was pretty standard as far as these things go:
A quirky, misunderstood guy with bad luck returns to the city after having been to jail and turns his families’ lives upside down.
But I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, in these sorts of movies it’s the characters that make or break them, not the story. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m happy to report that despite some misgivings going in, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can therefore file Our Idiot Brother in the category of “movies that work.” (Most films of this nature get filed in the “movies that bored me” category, and are never thought of again.)
The title “idiot brother,” which is bestowed upon Ned (Paul Rudd) by his three sisters, is something of a misnomer. If you go to this movie expecting a Judd Apatow style comedy full of stupid people doing stupid things that spring from their ignorance, you’ll be disappointed. Our Idiot Brother is rather more intelligent than that. Ned isn’t an idiot – he’s artless, trusting, and genial. As he himself says in the movie, he prefers to “give people the benefit of the doubt.” His bad luck and screwups stem from trusting everyone.
Two… three… four hundred! Hey man, can you hold this for me?
Ned’s sisters, who all consider themselves much more worldly than Ned, see him as an idiot because he never acts selfishly. He’s always trying to help people, and in the process, putting his foot in it. The incident that lands him in jail, for example, features genial policeman cajoling Ned into offering him marijuana by feeding him a sob story about his “difficult week” that was specifically engineered to engage Ned’s do-gooder response. Look at it from the outside, though, and all you see is a dumbass selling drugs to a uniformed cop.
What do you mean, I’m under arrest?
Because Ned’s so nice and trusting, everyone loves him. The other inmates, the prison guards, the people he meets in the street. The only exceptions seem to be his sisters (but only sometimes) and his ex-girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) who has taken so great a dislike to Ned (for no reason that I can figure out) that she replaces him in his role as organic farmer and boyfriend with a lookalike (T.J. Miller) and refuses to let him have his dog, Willie Nelson.
Sorry, man. You need a ride into town or anything?
After being cast off, Ned’s got nowhere to live, so he ends up bouncing around between his sisters’ homes. They’ve all got some aspect of their lives that’s on the edge of imploding and Ned’s presence forces them to confront it. It’s probably not fair to Ned (it’s definitely not fair to Ned) but they blame him for their own screwups, which makes us (the audience) long to see Ned freak out on them and verbally bitch-slap them for their selfish behavior.
ALL OF THEM: No, YOU take him!
All of the characters in Our Idiot Brother are quirky and interesting, which is what really makes the movie for me. Ned’s oldest sister Liz (Emily Mortimer) is married to a douchebag documentary filmmaker who takes her for granted (Steve Coogan in his one and only unfunny role). She’s also ignoring the fact that her seven year old son River (Matthew Mindler) wants to be an ordinary boy instead of the pretentious genius he needs to be to get into the upscale private school his parents have their eye on.
All he needs to ruin his interview is a crazy uncle to teach him a fake martial art.
Ned’s next oldest sister Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) writes for Vanity Fair and is using underhanded means to get ahead in her job. On top of that, she’s also determinedly ignoring the fact that her neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott) is such a good “friend” that he’d jump out of bed with a woman to rush upstairs and help her move her furniture around.
Oddly enough, his character in Leap Year was called Jeremy too.
And finally, Ned’s youngest sister Natalie, a terribly laconic and unfunny stand-up comedian who lives in a crumbling loft apartment with about twenty other people and a storeroom full of visiting Bulgarians, is supposedly in a committed relationship with her girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones) but can’t seem to stop herself from diddling Christian (Hugh Dancy) the artist she’s modeling for… naked.
Sorry honey, I promise I won’t bone all my employers… just maybe most of them.
So Our Idiot Brother is funny in almost every scene, but in an understated way. It’s not trying too hard, like most of the comedies I’ve seen recently, and that makes it even more appealing to me. It trusts me to get the jokes, to see the absurdity in each situation, instead of bopping me on the nose with it. And it’s refreshingly cliché free (well, except for one or two things), which I appreciate. I’m sure you will too if you go, and you should. It’s a better pick than The Change-Up.