Our Idiot Brother (United States, 2011)August 24, 2011
Lately, comedies seem to come in two flavors: profane raunch-fests that seek to garner laughs via shock tactics and big-screen sit-coms. Despite Zooey Deschanel's repeated utterance of the word "fuck" and a dud of a threesome, Our Idiot Brother falls squarely into the latter category. It's tame and rather bland, and the laughter it generates is half-hearted. Director Jesse Peretz commits the unpardonable sin of wasting the considerable comedic talent of Paul Rudd. The funniest thing about Rudd is his Grizzly Adams beard. Our Idiot Brother is like a horse that's slow to get out of the gate. One keeps expecting it to hit its stride, make a mad dash, and finish strong, but it just falls further and further behind.
The title character is Ned, who's played with a glazed expression by Rudd. Ned's a lot like the Steve Carrell character in Dinner for Schmucks, except in this case no one is out to get him. He's good natured, laid back, disarmingly truthful, and unable to keep a secret. When we first meet him, he engages in the unfathomable act of idiocy of selling a bag of weed to a uniformed cop. After a stint in jail, he discovers that his girlfriend (Kathyrn Hahn) has moved on and so must he. He has three attractive sisters, all of whom are willing to help out: Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), and Liz (Emily Mortimer). He spends time living with each of them and systematically destroying their lives, mostly by revealing infidelities. For Ned, his life's objective is being reunited with is one true love: his beloved pooch, Willy Nelson.
Aside from Ned, who's almost too much of an innocent to laugh at in good conscience, Our Idiot Brother is populated by a roster of odious characters - the shrewish Miranda, the whimpering and impotent Liz, the oversexed Natalie, plus a raft of equally unappealing secondary figures. One can understand Ned's desire to stay in jail when he gets the chance. In true sit-com style, however, everything works out cheerfully, with characters getting happy finishes instead of justly deserved comeuppances. By the time the end credits arrived, I felt like I was drowning in honey. What happened to the idea of following a black comedy to its conclusion?
Another problem with Our Idiot Brother, aside from its anemic comedy, is an inability to offer convincing drama. There are times when the movie wants to be taken seriously, but the screenplay lacks the conviction to generate honest emotions and Peretz doesn't have the deftness of touch necessary to navigate the thin line between melodrama and farce. The drama is as wishy-washy as the comedy. When Liz's blinders go up and her life collapses, it's hard to feel anything for her. She's a shallow character and the depth of her pain is unconvincing. That's not a knock on Emily Mortimer, who is a good actress, but there's only so much she can do with an undercooked screenplay.
Our Idiot Brother isn't bad; it's just a waste of time. It will probably play better on the small screen than the big one, where it feels like a film festival darling with no appeal beyond the isolated bubble of an adoring Park City crowd. There are laughs to be had here, but they are fewer and less hearty than they should be, and Our Idiot Brother offers so little beyond them that it would be surprising if this title did not end up on the fast track to obscurity.
Our Idiot Brother (United States, 2011)
Cast: Paul Rudd, T.J. Miller, Rashida Jones, Kathryn Hahn, Hugh Dancy, Steve Coogan, Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Adam Scott
Screenplay: Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall
Cinematography: Yaron Orbach
Music: Eric D. Johnson
U.S. Distributor: The Weinstein Company