Review: “Our Idiot Brother”

Paul Rudd is a talented actor with great comic timing and is overall a lot fun to watch. However, a signature role in a quality film has eluded his career thus far and that trend continues with “Our Idiot Brother”. The film arguably gives Rudd his most diverse performance to date; however the quality of the script is not quite up to matching the quality of the character Rudd plays.

Playing against his usual type of the preppy cynic, Rudd plays Ned Rochlin, a long-haired, loveable pothead with a scruffy beard and a big heart. Ned is child-like and innocent in many respects, which can often be confused with stupidity. Ned does little to clarify this confusion to the people he interacts with, as in the opening scene he’s busted for selling marijuana to a uniformed police officer. As there’s apparently no room for such naïve innocence in the modern world, Ned is sent off to prison.

Upon his release, Ned returns to his vegetable farm, a girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) he loves and a dog he loves even more, but he quickly finds himself dumped, homeless and dog-less. He retreats to his family in New York City, which consists of his loving mother (Shirley Knight), and his three sisters: Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimer). Ned’s relationships with his sisters serve as the backbone of the film as he invades each sister’s living space one by one. Miranda is an ambitious feature writer, Natalie is a sex addicted bisexual and Liz is a stay at home mom married to an inattentive and self-centered husband (played well by Steve Coogan).

If the script had been kinder to Ned’s sisters, they could have been more engaging and likeable. Unfortunately, all three are portrayed as either selfish, shallow or both. Banks and Deschanel in particular do their best with the given material as both are funny and enjoyable to watch, regardless of their behavior. However, despite the impressive supporting cast, it’s Rudd who carries “Our Idiot Brother” and often elevates the material with his immense likeability and charisma. The film suffers greatly whenever Rudd is not on screen, which is thankfully not often.

The role of the endearing pothead is often played for laughs in most comedies, but that’s not quite the case in “Our Idiot Brother”. Rudd manages to bring a level of sincerity and innocent charm to Ned that prevents the character being labeled as simply a “pothead with heart”. Ned never strays from his overall ideology of honesty being the best policy and always giving people the benefit of the doubt. He’s genuinely a nice guy. Ned’s adherence to his way of life is often in direct conflict with that of his sisters who are either lying to themselves or to others throughout the film. This in turn wreaks havoc for them and leads to some genuinely funny moments.

Director Jesse Peretz conceived the story with his sister Evgenia, who is credited with the screenplay alongside her husband David Schisgall, a documentary producer and director. This marks the first feature Peretz has directed, as he does a solid job in capturing the heart of the film and maintaining its overall fun spirit. Peretz often avoids going for obvious laughs and in turn circumvents many comedy stereotypes.

“Our Idiot Brother” plays more like a drama with heavy comedic aspects than a straight comedy. The laughs aren’t fast and furious, nor are there many big laughs to be had. This is a film that minimizes the cheap laughs in favor of heart and sensibility, which is refreshing from a rated R comedy. There’s nothing incredibly unique or original about the film, but it’s entertaining and surprisingly fun. Rudd’s character of Ned is a guy who means well, but doesn’t always mix in with his surroundings. That’s essentially how this film can be described; a script with good ideas and intentions, but falls a little short in bringing those elements together on screen.