We can all relate to having that one relative you just can’t stand but love unconditionally. The titular enfant terrible of Our Idiot Brother, the latest in a spate of R-rated summer comedies, is just that guy.
This film boasts your dream indie cast, lead by Paul Rudd as the dopey Ned, always grinning ear-to-ear even when the sun doesn’t shine. Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Steve Coogan, Rashida Jones and probably a bunch of other people I can’t remember populate this Apatow-lite dramedy. All of them bring a certain degree of charm to the table of what is basically an onscreen dinner party of clashing personalities.
There’s Liz (Mortimer), a housewife and mother who wears shirts made of flax and insists on wholesome family values. Natalie (Deschanel) is a fair-weather bisexual and struggling comedian whose biggest fan is her girlfriend Cindy (Jones). And Miranda (Banks), the harpiest of all, is a writer for Vanity Fair who keeps her downstairs neighbor (Adam Scott) pussy-whipped to do her bidding. Ned enters like, oh, a bull in a china shop.
Paul Rudd plays the daffy-dumb Ned, a free-spirited dude — no doubt with traces of homage to The Dude — arrested for selling the wacky weed to a police offer. He’s an effusive and earnest guy — you can tell by the Crocs he so unpretentiously dons — and his earnestness proves to be his Achilles heel when, after he’s released from prison and shacks up with the fam, he gets into a lot of trouble with his three shrewy yet lovable sisters (Mortimer, Banks and Deschanel, if you hadn’t guessed).
In making a film that’s ensemble cast and character driven, director Jesse Peretz and writers David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz (interestingly, a Vanity Fair contributing editor herself) seem to be channeling the likes of writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing, Please Give) or a cheerier Woody Allen.
Though the characters, especially Ned and his sisters, have a whole host of flaws and neuroses, we can’t help but love them all the same. The performances are all sweet and understated, a welcome relief from a seriously unsubtle summer of adult comedies.
Steve Coogan, as usual, plays a smarmy slimebag with the perfect anatomical mix of asshole and head-case. The biggest surprise is Deschanel, who seems to have shed her tweeness once and for all (though she has kept the vintage dress). And Rudd, as always, reaffirms his status as an impossible-not-to-like leading presence.
In spite of all the hard work here, the plot is spare and the scenarios offer only a modest smattering of laughs. But the film manages to stay totally hip without trying too hard, like in its portrayal of Natalie’s complicated sexuality or Dylan’s (Coogan) insistence that America is a country “obsessed with screens.”
And yet it’s hard to rave about this film when everything really is so likable. Our Idiot Brother brings to mind that person you know who is just too nice. You wish they were just a little more cynical, and you kind of want to slap them.