It’s hard not to like Paul Rudd’s character in his latest film, Our Idiot Brother. Ned is laid back, sweet and unassuming, and we all sense that his presence in our lives would benefit us some way or another – if not by helping us to see the bigger picture, then by giving us that odd laugh and making us thankful that we didn’t turn out as simple as he did. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more than a likeable protagonist to make a movie watchable. Our Idiot Brother is a perfect example of this.
The film follows Ned, a naïve and quixotic organic farmer, as he boomerangs from relative to relative trying to make ends meet. After being released from prison for selling pot to a uniformed police officer, he returns to his farm to learn his girlfriend has a new guy and no longer wants him working there. Adding insult to injury, she appropriates his beloved canine, Willie Nelson (giving the film a catalyst that it for the most part decides to abandon). His other sisters (played by the coldly feminine Zooey Deschanel and the stunning Elizabeth Banks) do their best to help him scrape by, but find their own lives marred by his presence, particularly his penchant to disclose sensitive details of their lives to others. The eldest sister, Liz, appears to be going through a mid-life crisis, and though she welcomes Ned into her family, her two-timing husband (the typecast yet brilliant Steve Coogan) shows him nothing but condescension and disdain. Ned forms a bond with their son and helps foment his interest in martial arts, which Ned’s sister and brother-in-law will not accept. This is where the film is its strongest – showcasing healthy relationships that must for whatever reason be severed.
It fails, however, in a number of places. The star-studded cast is so plentiful that we never get the chance to cozy up to any of them. They are all extensions of our hero, Ned, and as the titular “our,” you’d expect them to be sympathetic too. After all, we are to see Ned through their lens. But not only are they unpleasant, they are so absorbed in their own metropolitan hipster lives that we end up cringing as the film rotates through the build-up their trifling concerns. Yes, it’s mildly upsetting to witness Deschanel’s character cheat on her more joyous and fun-loving girlfriend (played by Rashida Jones), but the distance between audience and character prevents us from ever truly caring. And while we may have liked Jones’s character in the first half of the film, she ends up being just another person who betrays Ned when he needs her the most. The film ends up a mess of two extremes: Ned, the sympathetic push-over whose family takes care of him only out of a sense of duty, and the wholly unsympathetic secondary characters, all of whom are thinly painted and more or less contemptible.
The script falters, hardly providing any satisfaction for Ned in his journey. Instead, he fumbles with even the most menial responsibilities, and we grimace as we watch time and time again where his patheticness will lead him. There is some minor relief at the conclusion, but it comes much too late to negate the tedious jibber-jabber that constitutes the bulk of the film.
Despite the producers’ attempts to pitch the film as a comedy, the biggest laughs are shown in the trailer, chief among them the scene where Ned earnestly sells a cop a bag of weed. Watch that clip on youtube sixty times in a row and not only will you save yourself 11 bucks, you’ll leave the room no less clueless about what makes a good story.
Verdict: Despite Paul Rudd’s apt portrayal of a painfully naïve hippie, the script proves humourless, and the secondary characters are too uninspired to elicit anything more than a resentful yawn.