I watched Our Idiot Brother last night, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. It’s not very often that a movie that can be equally funny and sweet comes along anymore, but this movie nails it. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like it really deserves to be as good as it is, but it works really well. More on that point later.
Paul Rudd plays Ned, the idiot brother of the title. After Ned finishes a prison sentence for selling marijuana to a police officer, he returns to the farm he called home to find that his girlfriend has dumped him for a new man, forcing Ned to leave his home, and his golden retriever, Willie Nelson (awesome dog name, by the way), behind. He goes back to his family, including his three sisters: Liz (Emily Mortimer), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel). Throughout the course of the movie, Ned stays with each of his three sisters, trying to raise the money to the goat barn on his old farm so he can be with Willie Nelson again, and has a huge impact on his sisters’ lives.
Directed by Jesse Peretz (who used to be the bass player for The Lemonheads) from a screenplay penned by his sister and her husband, Our Idiot Brother often feels like its going to become too cute for its own good. It often descends into cliche, with things like the little kid who’s of course wiser and more mature than his parents in a lot of ways, or the way that the “idiot” character will step in and make the other characters learn an important life lesson. Then there’s the ending, which is so insanely cheesy, it should make you want to yell at the screen and demand your fucking money back…
… but it doesn’t. Somehow, it all works. A lot of it has to do with Paul Rudd’s performance as Ned. Paul Rudd is so easily likeable as a person, but I think he’s criminally underrated as an actor. What he does here with Ned is absolutely beautiful, and in another actor’s hands, Ned may have come across as more stupid and less likeable. But Rudd finds a perfect balance, and finds a way to make Ned nothing less than sweet. His primary goal is nothing more than to get his best friend, his dog back. That’s a motivation I can get behind. And as I said earlier, the ending is very, very cheesy, but you’re rooting for Ned so hard that, in the end, it’s the perfect way to end the film.
Apart from the brilliant performance by Paul Rudd, the rest of the cast also do an excellent job. Rashida Jones is wonderful as Cindy, the girlfriend of Zooey’s character Natalie, and the always awesome Steve Coogan kicks arse as Dylan, the smarmy, prick of a husband to Liz. The scenes with Coogan and Rudd together are funny as hell, with the two playing very well of each other. You can just feel the hate that Dylan has towards Ned.
The direction is also great, and Jesse Peretz knows how to get the most out of a great cast. The jokes are wonderful, and the beats are shot just right. There’s one shot in particular where Ned asks out a girl in an elevator, gets shot down, and just before we see the elevator doors close, we see Ned just shrug his shoulders and smile. It’s a funny shot, expertly timed, and simply tells you a lot about the type of guy Ned is, always positive and care-free. Awesome.
If you’re looking for a feel-good film with a cast of characters that you actually give a shit about, if you’re looking for a good laugh, or if you love the shit out of dogs (and who doesn’t?), I recommend you give Our Idiot Brother a try.
4 out of 5.