Monday, August 29, 2011

Paul Rudd makes "Idiot Brother" a likable slacker

Our Idiot Brother (2011)
90 min., rated R. 
Grade: B

We Rudd you not, "Our Idiot Brother" is not the yukfest that you'd expect out of Hollywood at the end of the summer. But you have to buy Paul Rudd as the most good-natured, naïve hippie and trusting soul in the (movie) world. "Our Idiot Brother" is a lot like its slacker hero: it pleasantly ambles along and doesn't set high goals for itself, it's likable, occasionally funny, and ultimately sweet. 

Rudd winningly plays the "idiot brother," a shaggy dude named Ned who floats through life. He specializes in organic farming (or "biodynamics") but makes the honest mistake of selling weed to an uniformed police officer. When he gets out of jail, Ned's girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) kicks him off of the farm he's co-owned with her and also says she's keeping his beloved dog Willie Nelson. Ned tries living with his mom (Shirley Knight) in Long Island, but then heads to the city, taking turns staying on each of his sisters' sofas. The most inviting of the three, Liz (Emily Mortimer), welcomes Ned into her home. He's great with her son River (Matthew Mindler), but annoys Liz's British documentarian husband (Steve Coogan), who's having an affair with one of his film subjects. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a bossy Vanity Fair reporter who stops nothing to get the scoop and even makes Ned drive her for a celebrity interview. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a bisexual, bohemian beatnick who's in a committed relationship with a lawyer named Cindy (Rashida Jones), makes the mistake of sleeping with her painter (Hugh Dancy) and confiding in Ned with this news. Inevitably, Ned causes big problems with his three sisters, but even though they're exasperated by their brother's idiocy, he's less screwed up than them. 

Rather than being a forced, gags-a'plenty man-child/stoner romp that the (mis-)marketing suggests, "Our Idiot Brother" is more sensitive and warmly amusing than that. Director Jesse Peretz (2007's "The Ex"), working from a script by his sister Evgenia Peretz and her husband David Schisgall, has a stronger handle on addressing family dynamics than forming a story, which mostly meanders between Ned's freeloading, the sisters' subplots, and Ned's ongoing plan to free Willie Nelson. As a conventional narrative, it's a little too slack and aimless, but at least Peretz never shoehorns in a gross-out gag or lets things get too squishy. 

Rudd has such an inherent likability and brings humanity to Ned. Under that Jesus beard, he's a Capra-esque free spirit that tries seeing the best in everyone. As frustrating as his naïveté can be (handing a complete stranger a stack of cash on a train while he cleans up a mess, for one), this slacker is never obnoxious or just a moron. In fact, Rudd's genial, laid-back Ned is like Willie Nelson, his dog that is; as much as he pisses all over your carpet, you can't hate him. Rudd adds deft comic touches, like stopping to use hand sanitizer after walking in on Coogan naked with his mistress, and even touches us a bit when blowing up at his sisters during a game of charades. Mortimer, Banks, and Deschanel often cross into harpy two-dimensionality, but their exasperation is more in touch with reality than a sitcom. And can we just say, isn't Rashida Jones the most adorable butch lesbian sporting vintage grandpa glasses? 

Like a genial and go-with-the-flow underachiever, "Our Idiot Brother" works without trying too hard. Solid, man. 

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