Our Idiot Brother

You can pick your friends and you can pick your nose but you can’t pick your family.  While simple and a little gross, that saying is pure truth.  There’s always one member of the family that just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the group.  Or, there’s one uncle or cousin whose mission in life is to tease and torment you.  Mine was the latter.  I had an uncle who was a big man with big appetites for gambling, alcohol, cigars and women.  Whenever he came to town, I dreaded going to my grandmother’s house to see him because I knew he would tease me or pinch me too hard or hug me too tight with his breath and clothes stinking of a recently smoked stogie.  For some reason, this uncle seemed to lavish attention on me, making me feel very uncomfortable.  Looking back, he was just being gregarious but to my young mind it was torture.  This week’s movie, “Our Idiot Brother,” looks at a somewhat dysfunctional family, swirling about in the storms of their own making with a simple soul as the calm center.
Ned (Paul Rudd) has just been released from prison for selling pot to a uniformed police officer at a farmers market.  His girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) is now living with Billy (T.J. Miller) on the biodynamic farm/commune where they worked and lived.  With nowhere to go, Ned goes to live with his mother Ilene (Shirley Knight).  Ned has three very different sister:  Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), an ambitious writer at Vanity Fair, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a free-spirited nude model/aspiring stand-up comic involved in a lesbian relationship with a lawyer named Cindy (Rashida Jones), and Liz (Emily Mortimer), who is married to Dylan (Steve Coogan), a British documentary filmmaker.  Feeling smothered at his mother’s, Ned decides to stay with Liz but soon wears out his welcome after discovering Dylan is having an affair with the subject of his current project.  Similar catastrophes occur while staying with Miranda and Natalie.  While Ned is saddled with most of the blame for the things that go wrong, it’s his family that is making all the mistakes.
The most accurate way to describe “Our Idiot Brother” is as a life-lesson comedy.  Ned is a walking teachable moment looking for a place to happen.  Everyone he encounters is changed by the experience whether they want to be or not.  The premise of this film could have been turned into a Will Ferrell-type, over-the-top, beyond reality, insane comedy.  Instead, the filmmakers have decided to play it more straight and believable.  While I can’t argue with the approach, I would have liked to have seen a few more outright laughs as opposed to the mild chuckles this film delivers.  While the performance of Paul Rudd is undeniably great and the supporting cast is very good as well, the movie comes up short in the yuks department.
Paul Rudd improves the quality of any film he’s in.  He takes a mediocre flick like “Role Models” and turns it into a sweet, yet still crude, winning comedy.  He does much the same here.  Ned is described by one character as a man-child and that is a perfect description.  Ned is far too trusting, far too honest for the modern world.  His presence and inability to avoid sharing too much information, about him and others, ruffles feathers and hurts feelings.  What the ruffled and offended fail to realize is they are the architects of their own pain.  It’s their moral failures and their bad decisions that Ned, in pure love and childlike innocence, exposes to the world.  Everyone takes their anger and frustration out on Ned simply for being too honest to try and sugarcoat the truth.  “Our Idiot Brother” has a good, if somewhat predictable, story and a good moral.  What it lacks is a more biting and aggressive sense of humor.
“Our Idiot Brother” is rated R for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout.  The nudity is scattered with most of the naughty bits covered by strategically placed arms and hands.  We do get a very clear and far too lengthy look at Steve Coogan’s behind.  Foul language is common but not overwhelming.
“Our Idiot Brother” is a sweet film about a sweet man.  It is however being sold as a comedy and there is comes up short.  While there are some good performances by Rudd and others in the cast, the film tries too hard to teach us a lesson instead of making us laugh.  And like many sweet confections, this one will be quickly forgotten by those who see it.
“Our Idiot Brother” gets three guitars out of five.
Horrors in space, at the lake and in the past are headed to local screens this week.  Vote on the next movie I see and review.
Apollo 18—The untold story of NASA's covert, final operation to the moon, which revealed disturbing evidence of new life forms.
The Debt—A trio of former Mossad agents are haunted by a dangerous secret mission they undertook over three decades ago.
Shark Night 3D—A weekend at the lake house turns into a fight for survival when a group of friends discover the waters are infested with sharks.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
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