D: Jesse Peretz. DP: Yaron Orbach. W: David Schisgall & Evgenia Peretz. Starring: Paul Rudd/Emily Mortimer/Zooey Deschanel/Elizabeth Banks/Adam Scott/Rashida Jones/Steve Coogan/Kathryn Hahn/T.J. Miller.
Summer comedies have been all over the map this year. Great highs like Bridesmaids, decent highs like Crazy, Stupid, Love and lows like Horrible Bosses (let’s not forget the ones I didn’t bother seeing…The Change Up, Zookeeper, Bad Teacher). Our Idiot Brother is probably last in the batch of comedies for the summer, before the fall and awards season takes center stage. And we all know it is rare for a comedy to survive that time.
Our Idiot Brother firmly belongs in the enjoyable and decent categories. Heart warming, with a splash of reality, Paul Rudd centers the film on his performance as brother Ned whose quiet, quirky life seems to be falling out from beneath him. Newly out of jail on a violation for basic stupidity, Rudd begins his search for a place to live. Throughout his journey to find new space and purpose he destroys and rebuilds his relationships in nice non-slapstick fashion. Rudd inhabits Ned freely, doesn’t fall into pastiche or allow his character to seem mentally incompetent. Rather Rudd shines as much as the script allows him to.
Along his journey Rudd couch and bed surfs through his mother’s home and the various dwellings of his three sisters. The first is sweet, disheveled, harassed, and married Liz, played by Emily Mortimer. The most interesting and the best performance of the three, Mortimer nervous laugh does more to convey her emotional situation than any of her lines. Married to scrooge Steve Coogan, it’s no wonder her rocker gets rocked. Next in line is Elizabeth Banks as Miranda, a single, driven journalist whose moral gray area situation she encounters with Rudd is about as interesting as her character gets. Zooey Deschanel brings up the rear as Natalie, a newly minted lesbian whose partner Cindy (Rashida Jones) turns out to be just as much of an archetype as she is. Unfortunately, what worked so charmingly for Deschanel in 2009’s 500 Days of Summer cannot and should not be replicated in every role she’s in. I especially find that she is styled in the same way, all the time, frustrating and distracting.
However, the woman of Our Idiot Brother who steals the film is definitely Kathryn Hahn. Somehow in every film she’s in her supporting performances feel more fleshed out and real than the leads. Same is the case here. Hahn’s peace preaching yet tightly wound Janet, a former girlfriend of Rudd’s, clomps her dreads around her farm yard and wins everyone over. Hears hoping she get’s her own movie soon. Additionally, even Hugh Dancy as artist Christian was more memorable in his few scenes than whole sequences in the film.
Ultimately, Our Idiot Brother ends up being more of a family piece than anything. How can one personality or lifestyle that is so different than the rest survive within a traditional family structure? Where can family members meet in the middle rather than spend their lives wishing their family was “more like me”? The film may not provide any answers (Ned and his sister’s father’s absence is never explained), or huge laughs, but it at least allows Rudd’s Ned to be who he is. And with his dog.