Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I know a lot of people like to begin their assessments of certain films by saying "If you don't love this movie, you have no soul," or "...there's something damaged inside of you," or "...I can't be friends with you anymore." You get the drift. And although the new film from director Jesse Peretz, OUR IDIOT BROTHER, is far from the best film or even the best comedy of the year so far, it's so inherently likable that to not allow yourself to be charmed is actually a criminal act. The film also provides us with one of the best examples of how once tight-knit families become dysfunctional and then rally in times of crisis.
The heart and soul contained in OUR IDIOT BROTHER is palpable, and it comes from nearly all of the family relations of one Ned (Paul Rudd), a sweet, trusting, naive hippie who is far from idiotic. And it's his trusting nature that gets him tossed into jail for several month for selling weed to a uniformed cop. When he's released, he returns to his organic farm, his dog (named, although not played by, Willie Nelson), and his fickle girlfriend (played by one of my favorites, Kathryn Hahn), who has already moved onto a new man (the very funny T.J. Miller). As a result, Ned is forced to move in with his mom while he tries to find a job and a permanent residence--conditions set forth by his parole officer (Sterling Brown).
After feeling slightly confined with mom, Ned decides to take one of his three sisters, Liz (Emily Mortimer), up on her offer to stay with her family, including her documentary filmmaker husband Dylan (Steve Coogan, in perfect rancid asshole mode) and son River (Matthew Mindler). By being a good and trusting listener and perhaps a bit too free with private information, Ned manages to wear out his welcome with Liz and his other two sisters, Vanity Fair writer Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) or lesbian stand-up comic Natalie (Zooey Deschanel). In a short space of time, Ned inadvertantly wrecks a marriage, a lesbian partnership, and a career, all the while pining for his dog that his old girlfriend refuses to return.
Just to be clear, OUR IDIOT BROTHER is not a wacky screwball comedy where Ned is running around spilling the beans on family secrets, schrugging his shoulders, smiling, and saying, "Ooops!" There are a few moments of genuine heartbreak and drama here that make a lot of what happens in the plot seem plausible and devastating. The movie is nearly always funny, but when it chooses to slip in a degree of seriousness, it doesn't feel forced. Often, it enhances the comedy by giving us human characters that we're actually about to care about and identify with. Perhaps the film's most impressive feat is that it rarely achieves its R-rated laughs with vulgar humor or the impulse to put people down. Sure, the sisters call Ned an idiot from time to time, but they eventually realize the error of their ways.
The key to the success of OUR IDIOT BROTHER is the relationships, and there are a lot of them even beyond what transpires between the siblings. I loved the conversations Miranda's neighbor (Adam Scott) has with Ned. These two were meant to watch the director's cut of Dune on cable together. Or the lesbified Rashida Jones as Natalie's lawyer partner, who has to put with his Natalie's slightly slutty past (with men and women). Or the way T.J. Miller's character empathizes with Ned's battles with his ex. And god bless Shirley Knight, who plays the siblings' mom, always with a glass of wine in her hand and some sage advice for her kids.
A kind of clarity and strength emerges from the rubble that Ned has causes, and OUR IDIOT BROTHER is a celebration of messed-up families that care enough about each other to sweep aside the bullshit to help one another. It's the best movie of the week for sure, and a great way to close out an unusually strong summer of R-rated comedies. And if you tell me OUR IDIOT BROTHER didn't do it for you, I'll kick your ass from here to Peoria. Now go see it.
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