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Our Idiot Brother | Review

Road to Prison is also Paved with Good Intentions

Paul Rudd stars as the titular brother, Ned, in Jesse Peretz’s (The Chateau, 2001) latest comedic offering, Our Idiot Brother , a charming flick about adult siblings, gliding along a dysfunctional family trajectory but without a blackly comic streak. Featuring an amazing supporting cast, Peretz’s latest isn’t trying to be an acerbic statement about the miasma of American livelihood a la Alexander Payne or Todd Solondz, but is rather a sweet-toothed interlude that chugs along on some top notch comedic performances.

Co-Written by Peretz’s sister, Evgenia Peretz, and his brother-in-law, David Schisgall, this centers around a shaggy guy who works as a biodynamic farmer with his girlfriend Janet (a dreadlocked Kathryn Hahn) until he is arrested for selling pot to a uniformed police officer. While this may sound brilliantly stupid, it’s actually quite a believable scenario, for as the officer fools Ned into selling him pot (which begs the question, is this a common sting op at the farmer’s market?) we instantly get to see what kind of person Ned is, believing people to be honest and forthcoming. He wants to believe that people are genuinely good and well-meaning, which leads everyone to think he’s an idiot. Serving four months in prison (a reduced sentence, since he gets out for good behavior, voted Most Cooperative four consecutive times) he returns to his organic farm where he discovers his girlfriend has shacked up with another dirty hippie man (T.J. Miller) and not only refuses to let him stay, but announces that she will be keeping Ned’s golden retriever, Willie Nelson, at the farm. This devastates Ned, for there is nothing in the world he seems to care for more than his pooch. With nowhere to go, Ned stays with his mom (Shirley Knight) in Manhattan, and is reunited with his three uptight sisters: Liz (Emily Mortimer), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel). Deciding that he can’t stay with his mom, Ned gets passed about to each sister, naively throwing their lives into chaos in his unassuming and sweet way of being too honest for his own good.

Liz, a harried mother of two, is married to a documentarian (Steve Coogan, in the film’s only real mean-spirited role) who is neglecting her while working on his new film about an oppressed Russian ballerina. He begrudgingly hires Ned to help on the set of his film, much to his later regret. Upon teaching their 7 year old fake fighting tricks (“We don’t believe in those values,” whines Mortimer) they unload Ned onto Miranda, a very bossy journalist. Becoming embroiled in her interview of an infamous celebrity figure, Ned jeopardizes her career and her budding relationship with her doting neighbor (Adam Scott). At last, he is dumped on the seemingly care-free sister, Natalie, who lives with her girlfriend (Rashida Jones) along with three other friends. A free spirit looking to fulfill her artistic and sexual expression, she divulges a relationship threatening secret to her brother that turns her life upside down.

Overall, Our Idiot Brother is a completely charming film that features an endearing performance from Rudd. Without him, the film would flounder awkwardly (though the same can’t be said for his turn in the mean spirited rehashing of a French film with last year’s Dinner For Schmucks). It’s completely believable that Ned only wishes to be with his golden retriever; they are both creatures that want to live life and be loved.

The excellent supporting cast alleviates some of the formulaic tendencies of the script and the genre, especially as the film reaches its uninspired conclusion and predictable resolutions. While Shirley Knight and Emily Mortimer feel a bit underused here, worth noting are pretty hilarious turns from Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and T.J. Miller. They avoid the taint of caricature (see a similarly formulaic film, Away We Go, 2009, also enjoyable, for an example or two of this) that is often dangerous in films featuring such a vast array of characters having so little screen time to make an impression. And best of all, the film accomplishes what its lead “idiot” professes to do—it puts some good vibes out there. Selling rhubarb and making homemade candles has never seemed so delightful.

Rating 3 stars

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Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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