Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: "Our Idiot Brother"

It is interesting that Paul Rudd would make a film like Our Idiot Brother. Ever since his breakthrough role on Friends as Phoebe's love interest he has made a name for himself starring in Judd Apatow comedies. Rudd had fairly sizable roles in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). His career consists mainly of screwball comedies, which makes the dramatic tones of Our Idiot Brother a refreshing change of pace. Rudd plays Ned, a happy-go-lucky bio-dynamic farmer whose life hits a snag after being in prison. Ned seeks refuse in his three sisters, played by the talented trio of Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel. These three women are so self-involved that Ned's unapologetic brand of honesty begins to damage their private and professional lives. The film does a remarkable job contrasting Ned's blissful ignorance with the neuroses of his sisters. Countless films have tried and failed to blend comedy and drama and failed miserably, a recent example is the Anne Hathaway Oscar-bait film Love and Other Drugs. Some have classified Our Idiot Brother as a stoner comedy, but it would be inaccurate and an injustice to boil Ned's calm demeanor down to pot addiction. It is Rudd's performance that carries the whole film. Ned is gullible and believes the best in people but he is not stupid. His honesty often gets him in trouble, but he does it for the right reasons. There are a few things I would tweak, but Our Idiot Brother is a charming film about family with a standout performance from Paul Rudd. At least we are ending the summer on a high note!

Ned (Rudd) had been living and working on a farm with his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) until he was arrested for selling marijuana to a cop. He is released early for good behaviour and his plans to return to his old life are crushed by Janet and her new boyfriend Billy (T.J. Miller). Janet even keeps Ned's dog, Willie Nelson. Ned returns home to his mom (Shirley Knight), but soon seeks refuge with his sisters. Liz (Mortimer) is a stay-at-home mom of two and is married to the sleazy Dylan (Steve Coogan). Dylan has no interest in having Ned in his house but relents and begrudgingly offers Ned a spot on his documentary crew. Ned bonds with his young nephew River, but the tension in Liz and Dylan's marriage is palpable and Ned's presence becomes too much to handle. Miranda (Banks) is a journalist eager to get her first article published. She is also blindly in love with her downstairs neighbour Jeremy (Adam Scott), but only Ned can see the chemistry. Ned's presence damages Miranda's job and his blossoming friendship with Jeremy threatens to ruin Miranda's relationship with him. Finally there is Natalie (Deschanel), a hipster who lives with her lawyer girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones) and five other roommates. Natalie makes her own mistakes but it is Ned's fault for Cindy finding out. Ned must keep a steady income to appease his parole officer (Sterling K. Brown) and is mostly oblivious to his sisters' plights. The three girls find themselves so angry at him but unaware that his presence in their lives has actually been a godsend.

The final scene of Our Idiot Brother almost ruins the film (in a (500) Days of Summer-esque way), but has a whole it is charming and I was in love with Paul Rudd's performance. His whole character, from his mountain man beard to his infectious smile, made the film worth watching. Emily Mortimer made Liz a dissatisfied housewife and we empathize with her troubled marriage while also being angry at Ned for causing her so much pain. Zooey Deschanel's Natalie got the least amount of screen time, but I loved her chemistry with Rashida Jones. My one issue with the casting of Elizabeth Banks is that the dark hair and acidic personality are far too reminiscent of Parker Posey, a far more talented actress. Watching Miranda I kept picturing Posey during her brief stint on Will & Grace as Dorleen, Jack's boss at Barney's. My one other concern is that Ned's relationship with River was so cathartic for both characters that I wish the screenplay had realized its full potential. I am not going to focus too heavily on the negatives because the film is very strong and has a great cast. I hope that Paul Rudd uses this as a stepping stone to more challenging roles. He is great in raunchy comedy and playing the dumb rocker (like on Veronica Mars), but Our Idiot Brother proves that adding a little more substance to his roles goes a long way.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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