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With: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott, Steve Coogan, Kathryn Hahn, T.J. Miller, Shirley Knight, Matthew Mindler, Sterling K. Brown, Hugh Dancy, Janet Montgomery, Bob Stephenson, Peter Hermann
Written by: Evgenia Peretz, David Schisgall
Directed by: Jesse Peretz
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout
Running Time: 90
Date: 01/22/2011
IMDB

Our Idiot Brother (2011)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Nuts and Dolts

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The trailer for Our Idiot Brother chooses to zoom in on one throwaway image of Ned (Paul Rudd) pretending to pee by squeezing a juice box near his groin. In the movie, this takes place during the tiniest of moments, but in the trailer, it looks as if it's going for big laughs; essentially this is brain-dead marketing trying to target the movie at teens in love with gross-out comedies. But Our Idiot Brother is not a gross-out comedy. Rather, it's a sensitive, soulful movie more focused on moments of human fallibility than on farting.

Ned is an organic farmer, complete with floppy hair, beard, shorts, and little homemade bracelets. He happily operates a stall in a New York farmer's market. He has such a good heart that he secretly gives away a bowl of strawberries to a little girl. A uniformed cop asks Ned if he knows where he can get some pot; Ned isn't going to fall for that -- until the cop looks hurt and says, "I'm just having a bad week, you know?" Ned's eyes soften, and he agrees, going to prison for his kindness.

Ned is indeed an idiot, but the good kind. He trusts too much and talks too much. He sometimes realizes that he has said too much, but often he has already dug himself a hole. He never says anything mean; he just tells the truth and other people's meanness, deception and delusion do the rest. (The movie seems to be loosely inspired by Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot, from 1869.)

Getting out of prison, Ned goes for a family dinner and we meet his three sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), and Liz (Emily Mortimer). Each sister has her own personal drama. Liz is married to documentary filmmaker Dylan (Steve Coogan); Ned gets a job working for him and discovers Dylan having an affair with his subject, a ballerina. Of course, this gets back to Liz and Ned gets the blame. Liz, who is in a solid relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones), has a fling with a male artist (Hugh Dancy) and gets pregnant, the secret of which is entrusted to Ned. And Natalie, who works for Vanity Fair magazine, uses Ned in a shady way to get some inside dirt for a big story.

All of this lands in the hands of director Jesse Peretz, who was once the bass player for The Lemonheads, and who made a lovely little directorial debut with First Love, Last Rites (1998). His follow up, The Chateau (2001), was OK, and his third film, The Ex (2006), was dreadful. It appears that Peretz is more comfortable with drama, and with human behavior and foibles, than he is with comedy. In Our Idiot Brother, the comedy mostly springs from the story, and as such it's never truly hilarious or side-splitting, but it's nicely, warmly funny. The humor never feels gratuitous, but at the same time, the movie also feels a bit too slack; it feels longer than it really is, and more complex than it should be.

Yet I'm not sure what I would give up. I love the little moments that Ned spends with his mom (Shirley Knight), with a glass of white wine forever perched in her hand. And I love the fact that Natalie's interview subject, Lady Arabella (Janet Montgomery) never turns up again after spilling her soul to Ned. (He asks her out and she quickly declines.) Maybe this is a movie that needs to be experienced again, sinking a little deeper into moments and gestures, like the way Ned looks confused when things are falling apart. At least, if this is the case, then this movie promises a much longer shelf life than most of the summer's other gross-out comedies.