Review: Our Idiot Brother

PLOT: Ned (Paul Rudd) is an eternally sunny hippie, with no room in his life for anything other than constant optimism. His belief in people`s essential goodness lands him in stir when he sells some weed to a cop who claims to be suffering from depression. Eight months later, he`s released from jail, but all is not well. His girlfriend has kicked him out of their commune, refusing to allow him to see his beloved dog, Willie Nelson. Penniless, he spends time living with each of his three beautiful sisters (Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, and Zooey Deschanel), unintentionally turning their lives upside down.

REVIEW: OUR IDIOT BROTHER was not at all the film I expected, considering the somewhat zany premise and title, and I mean that as a good thing. Going in, I expected a gross-out, cheeky comedy, but that`s not what I got. OUR IDIOT BROTHER is without a doubt a funny movie, but it’s more along the lines of something like THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, as it refrains from slapstick, and has a bigger heart than you`d expect.

This heart comes mostly from Paul Rudd, in a major departure from his usual, smart-ass characters. Usually typecast as a cynic, Ned is nothing of the kind, being an eternal optimist, no matter how much crap is thrown his way. Ned’s the kind of guy that, when counting his money on a subway, will ask the teenagers sitting next to him to hold his cash, as the idea that anyone would steal something from him is unfeasible. It`s a deliriously likable performance, and despite his extreme naiveté, Ned never seems stupid, or as the title calls him, an idiot. In some ways, Rudd seems to be doing a hippie take on James Stewart in HARVEY, minus the invisible rabbit.

In sharp contrast to Ned are his three sisters, each of whom has their own issues to sort through in their personal life. Housewife Liz (Emily Mortimer) is stuck in a loveless relationship to an arrogant documentary filmmaker (Steve Coogan, in a funny, smallish role), who enjoys lording his erudite English-ness over his family. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is the opposite, being an aspiring writer for Vanity Fair, whose ambition makes her blind to the way she`s perfectly matched to her slacker best-friend/neighbor, played by Adam Scot (who, it must be said, does a mean Kyle MacLachlan in DUNE impersonation). Finally, there’s Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who’s in a long-term, lesbian relationship with Rashida Jones’ character, but can’t help but be serially unfaithful with a variety of men, including an artist (Hugh Dancy) who’s into new age cults, bringing her and Ned along to one of his sessions in a funny episode.

Ned immediately tries to sort their lives out, but while his intentions are completely altruistic, he manages to completely screw their lives up, resulting in each sister trying to pawn him off on the other. While Rudd’s undeniably the star, a lot of time is spent on the dynamic between the sisters, and they make a convincingly lovable (is suspiciously photogenic) family. Each gets a gem of a role, with my favorite being the completely bowled-over Mortimer, although each gets more than a few fun episodes opposite Rudd. Towards the end, everything starts to sort itself out a tad too perfectly, but I suppose that’s to be expected, as this is the type of film where you can be pretty sure everyone’s going to get a happy ending.

To be sure, MY IDIOT BROTHER is not a particularly brilliant film, but it’s a very enjoyable comedy. Fans of Rudd will not doubt turn out to see this in droves, and if you liked his work in I LOVE YOU MAN, this is the film for you. It’s definitely more along those lines than something like ROLE MODELS or DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS, and this approach fits him like a glove. Given that Rudd’s previously co-starred, at sometime or another, with most of the cast, it’s obvious this was a fun, and friendly film to shoot and that comes across on-screen. Nobody phones it in here, and each and every actor manages to ring a lot of laughs out of their material, with no weak links among any of the players- no matter how small the role.

As for director Jesse Peretz, this is actually the first film of his that I’ve seen, as I avoided his high-profile flop, THE EX, like the plague. Whatever mistakes he made there, MY IDIOT BROTHER is a hell of a rebound. While it’s pretty much filmed in the point-and-shoot way you get in most comedies, a more sophisticated approach isn’t really needed here. Peretz just lets the cast work the material. He also manages to keep the tone from becoming to slap-sticky, which makes the more sweet-natured moments feel all the more natural.

OUR IDIOT BROTHER strikes me as the type of comedy that will strike a chord with a lot of folks looking for something with a bit more heart and warmth than your typical comedy. While it’s not short on laughs (the packed audience I saw it with was howling throughout), it’s also a lot warmer and more life-affirming than you’d think.

Review: Our Idiot Brother




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.