Ned Rochlin (Paul Rudd) is a simple, good-natured guy who gets sent to prison for selling marijuana to a uniformed policeman. Eight months later, he’s released and he returns to his little subsistence farm to find that his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) is now his ex-girlfriend and that there’s already a new boyfriend, Terry (Peter Hermann). Homeless, Ned seeks a place to stay in the homes of his three sisters – Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Liz (Emily Mortimer) and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) – but effectively becomes a refugee when his presence causes a scandal in each of his sister’s lives to come to the fore.
Our Idiot Brother is a light-hearted comedy that goes a long way to avoid the clichéd gags that most contemporary comedies make their primary focus. But it is Rudd’s performance as Ned that makes this film more than just a simple comedy. Rudd doesn’t just act innocent: he has an unfailing belief in the goodness of humanity. And when your audience is most probably brimming with cynicism, that’s quite an achievement. It is also necessary, with the alternate subplots boasting, at times, unsettling characters and situations.
This dark tinge marks the edges of the narrative in the form of Miranda’s total incomprehension of ethics, the four siblings’ alcoholic mother Ilene (Shirley Knight), and the chillingly brutal Dylan (Steve Coogan) – Liz’s unfaithful husband – to name a few. One of the most uncomfortable scenes to watch is when Liz confronts Dylan about his infidelity. It will make you cringe in every way your body knows how.
There is, however, something amiss between Ned’s impeccable faith and the darkness that surrounds him in the form of other characters. All the bits in between are neither here nor there, little fillers that detract from what is otherwise a solid narrative. In this respect, it seems more like an incomplete experiment than the final product. For example, Natalie is a self-absorbed Bohemian-lesbian construct that ends up pregnant after a sexual encounter with an artist she models for. Her lover, Cindy (Rashida Jones), seems to get over it fairly quickly and this marks the biggest downfall of Our Idiot Brother.
The main plot and every subplot’s end is sickeningly sweet. It’s not enough to kill the entire film but it makes those little gems of comedy and discontent seemingly superfluous when Ned is going to, all of a sudden, find a loving partner by following Willie Nelson (the dog, not the politician). Allegedly, the ending was changed after its Sundance viewing which would account for its lack of flow. It’s more like running into a wall of credits than a cathartic conclusion.
Regardless, it’s still an enjoyable film, even if you watch it just to see Janet being an angry hippy trying to keep Willie Nelson away from Ned.
Our Idiot Brother is currently on circuit.