Yeah, yeah; it didn’t pull in much box office cash this opening weekend, but that should not deter the bright, conscious over-25er from spending 90 minutes enjoying Our Idiot Brother. Director Jesse Peretz treats the story’s drama with a levity that implores us not to take it (or life) too seriously, and the script (David Schisgall & Evgenia Peretz) is peppered with relatable laughs…unless you’re a jaded curmudgeon. This is not a movie for people who are hell-bent on an exhilerating plot, but for those of us who enjoy a well-painted character who drives the story: people who want to redeem their faith in humanity.
Paul Rudd is sweet, funny, and absolutely convincing as Ned, the good-natured hippie stoner who gets himself and everyone else into trouble due to his inability to be anything but honest and kind. Ned returns from a stint in jail to find his lady (the ubiquitous chick flick sidekick and soon-to-be NBC leading lady Katherine Hahn) has a new man. When she kicks him off the organic farm they had run together, keeping his beloved dog, he has nowhere to go but back to his mother and three sisters, who pass him around until they get fed up. Each sister has a unique and detrimental problem, and Ned accidentally brings each problem into the open, one at a time.
“If you really give people the benefit of the doubt and see their best intentions,” Ned says, explaining his life philosophy, “people will rise to the occasion.” It’s this philosophy that makes us root for Ned despite the maelstrom he unintentionally creates within his family; we love him because he sees the good in everyone, and if everyone was so honest, there would be less drama in this world. The only reason Ned clashes with his surroundings is that everyone else is lying to themselves or those around them. Our society calls people like Ned “naive”.
The sisters whose lives are upended by Ned are artfully played by Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel, and Elizabeth Banks. Their characters, a harried wife and mother, a struggling stand-up comedian and philandering bisexual, and a success-driven bossy reporter, respectively, have all reached a point in their lives where they can’t see past their own issues to enjoy life. When even Ned nearly breaks under the weight of their cynicism, they know something has to change. Hilarious performances from Hahn, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, and T.J. Miller add flavor to the multiple storylines that are all connected by one thread: Ned.
Sure it wraps up nicely in the end, but this is a feel-good movie, so snobs who would rather exit the theatre lamenting their pitiful lives need not apply. Ned proves to have a Julie Andrews kind of effect on his family. They are resistant to his dopey sunshine-and-honesty methods at first, but in the end, they are changed for the better.