I have a shocking announcement to make — you may want to sit down for this. Are you seated? Do you have a glass of water nearby just in case? OK, here goes: Most of the films being made these days are not all that original. I know, crazy right? What with the Remake-o-Tron going at full spin, and the 1849 goldrush-like pursuit of any property that may someday, perhaps possibly be made into a movie, the truly original screenplays seem to have died quick death. There are a few exceptions, but Our Idiot Brother is not one of them.
That doesn’t make it a bad movie, but it is not an original one, either. It isn’t a remake, but the plot — while it has some original moments — is nothing you haven’t seen before in a light-hearted comedy. But comedies are all about the execution performances, and Our Idiot Brother is solid in both categories.
You will have to be able to turn your brain off and overlook some plot points that don’t really make much sense under closer scrutiny, but if you can, you’ll be left with a fairly enjoyable, and familiar movie.
Our idiot plot
Ned (Paul Rudd) is an idiot. He is a likable idiot, and his idiocy comes more from a naïve sense of trust that he clings to than a lack of intelligence, but his good nature leads him, and those around him, into trouble more often than not. He is an idealist who believes that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, which can lead to some endearing moments. The flipside of that is that it can lead to some “bull in the China shop” moments when he doesn’t understand the sometimes-unfortunate need for guile in the modern world.
After spending a few months in jail for selling marijuana — to a uniformed police officer — Ned returns home to find that things have changed on the organic farm that his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) runs. It turns out that Janet is a slightly awful person, and Ned is forced to stay with family while figuring out his next step.
After a brief stay with his Mom (Shirley Knight), Ned reaches out to his sisters: The family-oriented Liz (Emily Mortimer), the career-focused reporter Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and the bisexual free spirit Natalie (Zooey Deschanel). Each of the sisters thinks that their lives are on track, but as Ned stomps through those lives, he accidentally brings existing problems to the surface, for which the sisters all blame him.
Things eventually reach a boiling point as the sisters, who look down on Ned as the “idiot brother,” are forced to confront the problems that have always been there but they were unable — or unwilling to see.
It is a bit surprising that this movie went for the R rating, as it is almost completely unnecessary. It would have been a fairly simple matter to make this PG-13 — even PG — and expand the audience base. It is even more surprising given how tame much of this movie is. Ned can be a bit of an idiot, but he is just a catalyst to the problems he causes, and is usually just a light catalyst at that. Neither the character nor the film really push the boundaries, which makes the R rating both unnecessary, and something of a wasted opportunity.
It isn’t exactly an original idea, but it works thanks to some good jokes and better performances. While Ned is the star, and the three sisters are all integral parts played by well-known actresses, each of the sisters also has a person in their lives that is part of their problem, one way or the other — and all three are also known actors. In Liz’s life it is her husband Dylan (Steve Coogan), Miranda’s is her best friend and neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott), and for Natalie it is her girlfriend (Rashida Jones). This is where Our Idiot Brother has a bit of an advantage on many other stories of a person bringing wackiness to the structured lives of people.
Each of the characters has their own quirks and points-of-view. That isn’t to say that they are all fleshed out, but without the solid cast that Our Idiot Brother has, the film would likely have felt hollow and forgettable. Instead it is still a bit forgettable, but enjoyable.
Every character in the film ends up orbiting Ned in some way. That takes a bit away from their own stories, but it makes for a better movie as a result. They are all foils to Ned’s idiocy, which puts the onus of the movie on Paul Rudd. He does a good job as a likable doofus. The plot quickly becomes a paint-by-numbers affair with a predictable “feel good” course locked in, but the journey there is helped along by Rudd’s charisma. There are a few groan-worthy moments, and plot inconstancies that only exist to further the plot despite their lack of logic — little things like why a good-hearted guy like Ned would date a woman like Janet for three years and never see what a terrible person she was — but those are all easily overlooked.
Director Jesse Pertez (The Ex) manages to string the lives of Ned and his sisters together well thanks to strong performances from the entire cast. The plot is not exactly original, and the word “predictable” springs to mind. The word “inoffensive” also has a place in the conversation.
From the start, once you have a good idea of what is going on in the lives of the sisters, you can probably guess where that particular story thread will take you. The path they take to get there is what makes this movie fun. That and Paul Rudd, who hucks this film on his back and makes what could have been a lifeless flick into a fun and watchable one.
If you are looking for a fun and simple movie that is well acted and will leave you with that “feel-good” shine that only a Hollywood movie can offer, Our Idiot Brother is a great pick. At times it is a fairly tame, and again, the R rating is slightly baffling for a comedy like this. It never really approaches “edgy,” which you might expect based on the rating, but it still has enough humor and likability to justify itself.
(Our Idiot Brother is Rated R, with a running time of 90 minutes)