Pual Rudd doesn't exactly play an idiot in OUR IDIOT BROTHER, released today. His Ned is incredibly naive, trusting, and probably too optimistic for this world, but he's not really an idiot. However, his trusting nature constantly gets him into trouble, whether it's selling weed to a uniformed police officer - "I've had a really bad week," the officer tells Ned, and Ned feels sympathy for him before making the sale - or believing his brother-in-law (Steve Coogan) when he tells Ned it's for his documentary film that he be naked when he shoots his ballet dancer subject. Ned is one of God's special children, and Paul Rudd plays him with humor and sympathy. It's the kind of performance that looks effortless to pull off, but Rudd walks a real tightrope here - too far to either side and he falls flat. It's a testament to his acting abilities that he's completely believable as this good-natured doofus who rolls with whatever life throws his way.
His sisters, however, can't seem to go through life with any kind of simplicity. Liz (Emily Mortimer) is married to Coogan, and she's given up on their marriage, content to raise their son in an insulated bubble. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a lesbian who just might be bisexual, and her relationship with attorney Cindy (Rashida Jones) is getting increasingly complicated because of it. Finally, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is given her first big story at Vanity Fair, and she desperately doesn't want to screw it up. Her relationship with best friend Jeremy (Adam Scott) seems to be growing into something more and she doesn't know how to handle it. Due to the events of the pot bust, Ned storms through their lives and leaves havoc in his wake, and the sisters are forced to deal with the complications of their relationships because of it.
OUR IDIOT BROTHER is one of those quiet comedies that gets ignored while louder, more obnoxious films take center stage. But Jesse Peretz (who worked with Paul Rudd before in THE CHATEAU) deftly manages all the plots and subplots into a cohesive whole. All Ned wants is to get his dog Willie Nelson back from his ex (Kathryn Hahn) and everything would be copacetic. But he's ill-equipped to deal with things outside his worldview.
One of the best things about Rudd's perfromance is that even with all the familial strife, he remains unfazed and happy, and that happiness is infectious. It's his performance that centers the film. The three sisters could come across as very hateful and unsympathetic but Mortimer, Deschanel, and Banks all manage to avoid that pitfall. You can see how Ned would come to be the way he is through his sisters' lives. They seem to feed on drama, and Ned will have none of it, rejecting their lifestyles for something that works for him, ambitionless as it may be. This is the kind of film that you'll be able to see the end coming from a long ways off, but the journey there is so pleasant and funny that you won't mind the predictability of the plot.
OUR IDIOT BROTHER is a minor key kind of film, one that could easily slip through the cracks among other Hollywood properties. But Paul Rudd's performance is nuanced, subtle, and yet still hilariously funny, and he's worth the price of admission alone. Rudd is one of our finest comedic actors, and he's a treat in OUR IDIOT BROTHER.