Director: Jesse Peretz
Starring: Paul Rudd, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel
Before even getting started with Our Idiot Brother, I feel the need to talk briefly about one of the trailers attached to it, the one for the Adam Sandler film Jack and Jill, wherein Sandler plays the protagonist Jack as well as Jack's twin sister, Jill. I have a lot of questions about this film. Specifically, I would like to know Why? and How is this a movie? If you haven't had the pleasure, please watch the trailer.
The idiot in question in Our Idiot Brother is Ned (Paul Rudd), a biodynamic farmer who sells some weed to a uniformed cop and ends up in prison as a result. When he's released he makes his way home and learns that his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) is now living with another guy, news which he takes fairly well, or at any rate much better than the news that his dog, Willie Nelson, will not be returned to him. Heartbroken over the loss of his dog, Ned retreats to his family and is passed from house to house, causing havoc in the lives of each of his sisters.
Ned first goes to live with Liz (Emily Mortimer), whose husband Dylan (Steve Coogan) is a documentary filmmaker who wants to keep the family at arm's length. Problems arise when Liz and Dylan come to believe that Ned is undermining the values they want to pass on to their son, River (by doing such things as showing him The Pink Panther) and when Ned accidentally discovers that Dylan is having an affair, leading to the breakdown of the marriage. Ned next goes to stay with Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a writer for Vanity Fair looking for her big break as a journalist. Ned accidentally ruins both her career - she gets the information for her big story through duplicitous means and when questioned by the VF lawyers, Ned refuses to lie for her - and her potential romance with her neighbor/friend Jeremy (Adam Scott). After that Ned crashes with Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who is bisexual and in a relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones), who breaks up with her when Ned accidentally reveals that Natalie slept with a dude at a cult meeting (seriously) and is now pregnant.
Though generally enjoyable due to Rudd's easy, unaffected performance, Our Idiot Brother has a number of structural problems that keep it from being genuinely good. For one thing, even though Rudd's performance is really winning, the film stacks the deck in his favour to make sure that we're on his side. Nothing Ned does in the movie is really wrong (except selling weed to a cop and accidentally breaking a couple of Rivers' fingers) - the breakdown of Liz's marriage isn't his fault for the obvious reason that it's Dylan's, but also because he's not even the one who tells Liz about it as Miranda and Natalie do the honors instead; Miranda's big story falls through because she puts it together in a way that wouldn't stand up to legal scrutiny; Natalie's life blows up because she cheated but also because she specifically tells Ned that she and Cindy have hashed things out, so he doesn't realize the secret is still supposed to be a secret. To make matters worse, none of the sisters is particularly well drawn (the characterization of Natalie is especially problematic as it relies on a bunch of lazy cliches about bisexuals) and there isn't any real resolution to any of their problems - the film skips over that part and simply informs us that things have magically worked out.
As I said, Rudd's performance is really good and that's ultimately what makes the film worth seeing, even if it's not enough to make the film good. Yes, at times Ned is a little too much of a Noble Savage character, so pure, so good and untainted by the modern world, but for the most part Rudd is able to deliver a performance that rises above that, making Ned very human and very likeable.