One look at the DVD cover for Our Idiot Brother and one could make some preconceived notions about the film. There lies a bearded Allen Ginsbergian version of Paul Rudd, someone who’s known for being a good looking guy who can pull off funny, if need be. It’s a jarring image, but this film shouldn’t be tossed away with the rest of the idiot-savant-like characters that spawn from typical man-child films.
In this film, Rudd is far from his usual neurotic/OCD best, instead he puts the breaks on to portray a laid back, whimsical Ned, putting a new spin on the typical goon, with life philosophies like “If you see people’s best intentions they’re gonna wanna live up to them.” The film opens with Ned, a bio-dynamic farmer arrested after he’s gullible enough to sell weed to a cop who claimed to be having a bad day. That, and his beloved dog, Willie Nelson, do a pretty good job of setting the tone for what kind of character Ned is.
The film rolls into action when Ned is released from jail and is forced out of his home by his girlfriend, who found another bearded hippie to live with. With nowhere to go, Ned crashes into the lives of his three sisters; Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), who works for Vanity Fair, Liz (Emily Mortimer) a neurotic Brooklyn-ite mother who’s unaware that her obnoxious filmmaker husband Dylan (Steve Coogan) is having an affair, and the most like her free-spirit brother and youngest sister Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who Ned describes as “sort of bisexual”.
Then there’s Ned, the older brother whom no one wants to be burdened with, but who manages to skip around, creating chaos. By the end of each stay he manages to spill the beans on Liz’s husband’s odd sexual behavior with his lead actress, leaving his sister to put two and two together. He pushes his career focused sister Miranda onto her best male friend for a love connection, and then he mistakenly tells Natalie’s life partner Cindy (Rashida Jones) that she’s pregnant with someone else’s baby.
Sure, he’s considered dumb by his family’s standards because he’s not “out in the world succeeding”, but what’s refreshing about the inherently good nature of Ned is that he seems to have a pretty clear picture of his life and he’s more self aware about how the world perceives him than he lets on. He knows his sisters constantly undermine him; all the while he dutifully tends to each of them, partly because he has nothing better to do, but mostly because he cares deeply for them.
Ned earns the laughter rather than sitting easy with lazy gimmicky slapstick chuckles, whether it’s attending Yoga class with Natalie, going to sex addict therapy sessions, sauna meetings, or attending a business meeting. All of these layers grooving together for Our Idiot Brother makes moments like at the end of the film, when Ned freaks out when his sisters can’t be bothered to sit down and play a family game of charades, believable, and sheds an important slice of drama amongst the odd ball comedy that Ned sprinkles along throughout the film.
The DVD cover may lead you to believe that it’s all about Ned, but the film at the heart is about four siblings, and how they navigate their lives in the city, whether they’re in control or trying to control the chaos in their lives together and apart — Ned’s just the glue that holds everything together, his presence alone unknowingly begs his sisters to deal with their problems. If there’s a problem with the film, it certainly isn’t Ned or the fantastic who’s-who cast of comedic jack-of-all-trades. It’s that the story doesn’t get around to solving it’s problems until the last ten minutes when everything comes to a head for Ned and his sisters. By then you can see the problems from a mile away but more importantly, you can also see the easy resolutions that are practically all but swept under the rug.
For a film that came as a wonderful surprise, it certainly dropped the ball and failed to go deeper, as it could. Instead, it barely brushed the surface of the obvious conundrums. The bonus features don’t give much depth to what the film is lacking, but it’s always nice to see a tight featurette that brings insight from the director (Jesse Peretz) and writer (Evgenia Peretz), who just so happen to be brother and sister, on the delightfully quirky characters they’ve created. The gag reel does the job, too.