Monday, September 19, 2011

Our Idiot Brother / **½ (R)

Ned: Paul Rudd
Miranda: Elizabeth Banks
Natalie: Zooey Deschanel
Liz: Emily Mortimer
Dylan: Steve Coogan
Jeremy: Adam Scott
Cindy: Rashida Jones
Janet: Kathryn Hahn
Billy: T.J. Miller
Ilene: Shirley Knight
Omar: Sterling Brown

The Weinstein Company presents a film directed by Jesse Peretz. Written by Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall. Running time: 90 min. Rated R (for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout).

It wouldn’t take anyone long to think of that particular family member that everyone rolls their eyes about when they’re mentioned in conversation. “What’s he done now?” is a question often asked about this person. People fear that he will show up at family gatherings. But, he’s family, so no one can say anything. “Our Idiot Brother” shows us such a family member and offers a little insight about how the family blemish is not always the only flaw to be found there.

This is a comedy about a stoner that approaches its comedy much like a stoner. It’s cool. You don’t have to laugh, man. Just chuckle if it feels right. It’s laid back and unconcerned about most of it developments until its climax, when it shows a little concern before sliding back into a mellow haze. This type of comedy has many appeals, but it won’t make your ribs hurt from laughter.

Paul Rudd (“How Do You Know”) is Ned, a free spirit who is clueless enough to be duped by a uniformed cop into selling him weed. The scene does a good job of showing just how Ned could think a fix might seem like a reasonable and honest request from a uniformed police officer. But Ned, his badge is right in front of your face. C’mon, man.

Ned is released on parole for good behavior, but his girlfriend who runs the organic farm he worked on has already moved on to a seemingly more clueless stoner. She kicks him out and keeps the dog. C’mon, man! He must have a place to live as part of his parole agreement, so he goes to his family for help.

Ned has three sisters, none of whom are stoners. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks, “The Next Three Days”) is the power player, a journalist looking for the story that will make her career. She abuses her neighbor, Jeremy (Adam Scott, “Piranha 3D”), who probably likes her to allow her to do so. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel, “500 Days of Summer”) is another free spirit, but in the sexual sense. She has finally settled down with her girlfriend, Cindy (Rashida Jones, “Parks & Recreation”). Liz (Emily Mortimer, “The Pink Panther”) is the stay at home mom. She’s married to a documentary filmmaker, Dylan (Steve Coogan, “The Other Guys”).

Ned makes his rounds living with each of his sisters and messing up their lives in various ways. He discovers that Liz’s husband is cheating on her. He destroys Miranda’s big break at her publishing firm. He’s reveals a secret to Cindy that threatens her relationship with Natalie. All the while he’s desperately trying to get his dog, Willie Nelson, back. He also mistakes his parole officer for a therapist, and turns his nephew on to violence, which ruins his chances of getting into a prestigious private elementary school.

The thing about Ned is that he is a screw up, but he always thinks the best of people. Nothing he does is malicious. He never realizes that he’s revealing something that he shouldn’t. Rudd plays this like a born stoner. It’s so easy to like Rudd, and he makes it so easy to like Ned. You don’t want Ned to mess things up, but you know he’s going to. Despite his clear lack of intelligence about etiquette and obviously inappropriate behavior, Ned rarely does anything very wrong. It’s really the others who are doing things they shouldn’t. Ned just has a gift for placing himself in the middle of his siblings’ conflict ridden lives.

Eventually, it becomes clear that Ned is rarely the family problem that he seems to be. It’s the family that have their issues and problems. Ned is merely the scapegoat because he makes himself an easy target. The screenplay by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz is very smart about how families work. The direction by Jesse Peretz (“The Ex”) focuses the blame as much on Ned’s sisters as it does on Ned’s stoned antics. The result is a somewhat unbalanced comedy that meanders between serious character study and silly slapstick.

In many ways, “Our Idiot Brother” is an admirable comedy for not presenting its titular idiot with typical idiotic material. It’s smart in its observations about siblings and the fact that we can’t hang all of our own stupid choices on one person. Moreover, we are usually more to blame for our own problems than any other individual. However, the movie never really dives into its comedic elements. It’s funny, but the comedy is on a very slow simmer that never jumps into the spotlight the way laughs usually do. “Our Idiot Brother” is an enjoyable comedy that may leave some wanting for more laughs.

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