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Monday, December 12, 2011

Our Idiot Brother

During its early stages, Jesse Peretz’s comedy Our Idiot Brother works too hard to establish the quirks of its characters’ lives. From the “obviously, I’m a lesbian” glasses that Rashida Jones is forced to wear to the excessive uncomfortable sex-talk from Zooey Deschanel, Our Idiot Brother aims for something akin to The Royal Tenenbaums or J.D. Salinger’s Glass family, but falls short of those fictional clans’ realism.

Ned (Paul Rudd) is the kind of guy who’ll sell pot to a uniformed police officer because he trusts that the guy is really just having a bad week. When he gets out of prison he finds that his girlfriend has moved on, taking his dog Willie Nelson and kicking him off their biodynamic farm. With nowhere to go and a parole office to appease, he winds up relying on the kindness of his three sisters, Liz (Emily Mortimer), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel).

These sisters are kind of clichéd rom-com caricatures of urban white women, with their first-world problems and media jobs, so the stakes of the film never seem too high. None of the three sisters, nor Steve Coogan as Liz’s documentary filmmaker husband or Rashida Jones as Natalie’s girlfriend gets enough to do. The film might have too large a cast to fit into its ninety-minute run time. The very talented Adam Scott is almost wasted in a very small role as a love interest for Miranda.

That leaves the movie in Paul Rudd’s hands, which is actually just where it should be. Even when the film gets too touchy-feely about Ned’s easygoing lifestyle, Rudd never makes the character cartoonish. It’s a warm, friendly performance that shows that it takes someone smart to believably play dumb.

And by the end, when the film elevates the level of conflict between Ned and his sisters and gives Rudd some fine dramatic moments to play, and Rudd nails those too.

The movie probably goes too far with its “hey, maybe everybody should be more like this happy idiot” message, but it doesn’t seem to really take that message seriously, even slyly winking at it during the film’s tidy conclusion. That might not make it a great movie, but it is a movie exactly as charming and likable as its lead actor.

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