Wednesday, August 27, 2014

icymi: our idiot brother

Our Idiot Brother is one of those movies that had pretty good reviews and an appealing cast, and I just never got around to seeing when it was out in theaters. partly for its R rating — it's always harder for me to see R movies on my own — arranging to go without the kid can sometimes be difficult or just plain expensive. So I was glad to get an opportunity to catch up with the movie on Netflix the other day, and even happier when it turned out to be much better than I had expected.

The story follows Ned Rochlin (Paul Rudd), a good-natured, laid-back guy who wants to see the best in everyone and takes what people say at face value. This modern-day Candide and biodynamic farmer is easily caught selling marijuana at his farm stand in a "sting" by a policeman. After a brief stint in prison Ned returns to the farm and finds his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) has moved on with Billy (T. J. Miller) and wants Ned out, but refuses to let him take his dog, Willie Nelson. Ned, homeless and heartbroken without his pet, reaches out to his family — first his mother (Shirley Knight), and then, one by one, his sisters, Liz (Emily Mortimer), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and Nat (Zooey Deschanel).

Omar, Ned's parole officer (Sterling K. Brown, speaking extremely slowly), "I'm Officer Omar Coleman. I'm your parole officer. "
Ned (Paul Rudd), "I'm Ned Rochlin. Why are you talking so slow?" 
Omar, "I just figured, looking at your sheet, that since you sold grass to a uniformed police officer that you must be retarded."
Ned, "Yeah, I get that a lot."

Paul Rudd is wonderful as Ned. He could have played the part as a real idiot, for broad laughs, but he and the movie don't make that choice. There are definitely humorous situations, but Our Idiot Brother is a more human comedy. Each of the girls' lives is spiraling out of control. Liz is trapped in a loveless marriage with her husband Dylan (Steve Coogan), Miranda is so focused on her high-powered job at Vanity Fair that she is willing to do anything to get a big story, and Nat may be throwing away her great relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones) from fear of moving forward. While Ned may initially not seem to be helping anyone's situation, his open approach to life can't help but shine a light on some of their more deceptive ones.

As fun as it is to watch Ned, both Rashida Jones and T.J. Miller stand out in their roles as Cindy and Billy. Zooey Deschanel's twee Nat may be the only bum note, but her cluelessness does seem to be part of her character's trajectory. I couldn't help but feel that she needs to do something else and fast, as the charm has worn off the quirk. But the focus stays squarely on Rudd, who nails his hippie love man in all his tree-hugging glory. Most folks may not want to go "full-Ned," but couldn't we all stand to be a little more open, positive about people these days?

Ned, "I like to think that if you put your trust out there; if you really give people the benefit of the doubt, see their best intentions, people will rise to the occasion."

As sweet as Ned can be, there is a wonderful scene in the middle of the movie where he finally loses it, while trying to play charades with his mom and sisters. It's one of those moments that occur within families, and a glimpse at the anger and frustration that even sunny Ned has to contend with. Our Idiot Brother is a fun and funny film, and Paul Rudd once again proves how engaging he can be.


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