Its ending reportedly tampered with since Sundance, the indie-scented dysfunctional-family comedy Our Idiot Brother winds up flattering its complacent middle-class audience, but not for any real reason—there’s no medicine going down with this sugar. To try and imagine what the Weinstein Company might have worried about is to find oneself quoting the movie’s own doofus parolee hero: “You know what? You know what? Wow.”
As the titular chowderhead in Our Idiot Brother, Paul Rudd puts the fun in dysfunctional, testing the patience of three sisters played by Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks and Emily Mortimer.
Known for his farmers’ market rhubarb and for expecting the best from people, Paul Rudd’s hairy, Lebowskian, quasi-hippie Ned gets sent away early on for selling weed to a cop in uniform. But the dim-bulb dude gets out early for good behavior, and after a mellow custody feud with fellow-farmer ex Kathryn Hahn over their golden retriever Willie Nelson, he winds up surfing on his three sisters’ city couches.
It’s neither a surprise nor a disappointment to behold Rudd’s upstate rube rolling through this movie gallery of girly urbanites, including bi-curious commitment-phobic kook Zooey Deschanel, compromised journo-careerist Elizabeth Banks and resigned housewife Emily Mortimer. (Mother Shirley Knight watches all of them, neatly tucked into nightgown and holding a glass of white wine.) The sisters have challenging significant others of sorts, respectively Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and Steve Coogan, and although the film makes a silly point of Ned’s contagious credulity—by which he becomes a hamper for his family’s dirty laundry, inevitably spilled—it’s more convincingly a matter of contagious hilarity, just a nice upbeat ensemble hangout. Suffice it to say that no illusions are shattered, nor even any dissonance created, by the cheerfully riffing outtakes that run during the ending credits.
In Our Idiot Brother, all this amounts to a movie that gets you laughing, but with the wistful realization that being in its audience can’t possibly be as fun as being with all those pretty, funny people up on the screen, sharing their good time.
You could call it a vanity project, if only a vague one. Director Jesse Peretz is, among other things, the brother of Vanity Fair contributing editor Evgenia Peretz, who wrote the script with her husband David Schisgall. And something is odd about the sight of Rudd running a faintly Capra-esque course of superficially healing chaos. His sweetness doesn’t seem disingenuous, exactly, but it does sometimes seem like a mask worn over a real talent for social savagery. He wants points for puncturing pretense, but that desire itself might cost him a few.
This might have something to do with the years Rudd spent stewing in supporting-playerdom. A couple of his Our Idiot Brother co-stars have that heat too, and it suits them: Coogan knows just how to bare his teeth, and its clearly time for the hilarious Hahn to hold a proper movie of her own.
But then, maybe the desire for more than mere buffoonery is what got the Weinsteins worried about declawing Our Idiot Brother in the first place. To quote Ned again, “Who’s the man?”