A pretty smart idiot

Michael Phillips | Boulder Weekly


Floating through life on a personal high only partly provided by cannabis, the bearded, Crocs-sporting, semiprofessional farmer specializing in organics (or rather, “biodynamics”) is played, winningly, by Paul Rudd in an enjoyable shamble of a picture called Our Idiot Brother.

The character qualifies less as an idiot than as the most trusting soul in America, a man of limited ambition but infinite warmth, crazier about his golden retriever, named Willie Nelson, than he is about anyone or anything else in his existence.

The concept and marketing of Our Idiot Brother suggests raunchy arrested-development high jinks on the order of Step Brothers, or, to name a couple of pictures Rudd personally made better, I Love You, Man and Anchorman.

This one’s different. It’s sweet and low-key. It’s very ’70s in its vibe, which helps when the script veers in and out of formula. Even when the characters (particularly the female ones) threaten two-dimensionality, the actors have room to maneuver and create moments that stick.

As Ned, Rudd runs the show, but it’s not a one-person show. Essentially Our Idiot Brother is Chekhov’s Three Sisters with an idiot brother, an unofficial cousin of The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Early in the film, this little Lebowski makes the mistake of selling marijuana to a uniformed police officer at Ned’s local farmers’ market. Eight months later, Ned leaves prison and returns to the farm to find his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has taken up with another, equally addleheaded stoner (T.J. Miller). All Ned wants, really, is his dog. Which his ex won’t give up easily.

The three sisters have had a lifetime of Ned being Ned, i.e. causing inadvertent chaos. Co-screenwriter Evgenia Peretz, a Vanity Fair contributing editor, surely sees the weaselly magazine writer played by Elizabeth Banks as a repository of all things Ned is not: ambitious, selfish, tightly coiled. Zooey Deschanel plays the sister closest to Ned in spirit, a bisexual artist’s model whose girlfriend, played by Rashida Jones of Parks and Recreation, doesn’t know her lover has recently zinged back temporarily over the fence.

Meantime, the third female sibling, played by Emily Mortimer, has buried her personality inside the disdainful aura of her husband, a philandering documentary filmmaker (Steve Coogan). In various ways the grown sibs of Our Idiot Brother represent different, comical aspects of knucklehead liberalism, whether it’s a penchant for clothing made of flax, or Ned’s amusingly guilty reaction to not being up to accepting an offer made by a swinging couple at a party.

Peretz wrote Our Idiot Brother with her husband, documentary filmmaker David Schisgall, and though the film doesn’t feel like a documentary, exactly, it doesn’t operate according to the usual slam-bang rhythms. As Ned’s guilelessness causes one relational crisis in his extended family after another, the jokes rarely land as conventional punch lines. For example: Ned, tagging along on his writer-sister’s interview with a reclusive socialite, ends up in an elevator with the profile subject. They’re getting along. He asks her on a date. The way she turns him down, and his reaction, cannot be described, really — merely enjoyed. Director Jesse Peretz (brother of the screenwriter) encourages a loose, unforced interplay among his cast members. Some of it’s routine, to be sure. But in a world of aggravating Little Fockers-level shrillness, or Hangover-style nastiness, Our Idiot Brother — small, but satisfying — is a pretty smart cookie.

—MCT, Tribune Media Service Respond:letters@boulderweekly.com