Our Idiot Brother
Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel
3 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
I consider myself fortunate to be an only child. After viewing "Our Idiot Brother" my opinion hasn't changed - if I want in fighting I'll go to work. But if you want an amusing, light comedy about sibling civil war with feel-good life lessons -- brothers and sisters this is it.
Paul Rudd plays Ned Rockliffe, a crunchy granola organic farmer who makes the mistake of getting coerced into offering a lid of smokeable Mother Nature to an undercover cop. After paying his debt to society, Ned returns to the farm to discover his girlfriend Janet has shacked up with a sedate stoner named Billy. Worse, Janet intends to keep Ned from the real love of his life -- his dog Willie Nelson. With no place to live, Ned bounces between the homes of his three sisters, inadvertently leaving their love lives in ruin. Each sister entrusts Ned with a secret they don't want their significant others to know, which is like asking a six year-old full of sugar to go to Disneyland and not get on any of the rides.
Naturally, the three sisters' lives and personalities are radically different. (It would be a bore if they weren't.) High maintenance Miranda (energetic Elizabeth Banks) is an ambitious, career-minded writer at Vanity Fair looking to break out of writing blurbs about cosmetics and get into feature writing. She's gets nowhere in her attempt to unearth the pile of dirt high society entrepreneur Lady Arabella is hiding until Ned connects with Lady M and gets her to spill her potentially Pulitzer Prize winning secrets. But will the confidential information Miranda pulls out of Ned help or ruin her career? And when Ned reveals Miranda's critical remarks about her neighbor boyfriend Jeremy, will Jeremy write off their relationship?
Emily Mortimer plays middle daughter Liz, a drained, dull, dutiful spouse who's unflinchingly loyal to her English horn dog husband Dylan (snobby Steve Coogan). Dylan's filming a documentary about a Russian ballerina and is putting in plenty of late night hours. Liz flinches, and then some, when Ned informs her that Dylan's interviewing the ballerina in the nude.
Youngest daughter Natalie (a typical zooey Zooey Deschanel) is directionless, free-spirited and confused, a bad stand up comic who lives with more roommates than she can count, including her lesbian lover Cindy (an unrecognizable Rashida Jones). Natalie takes an interest in the artist she's posing for and soon finds herself unable to tell Cindy she's pregnant; Ned takes care of that while on a mission with Cindy to "free Willy" (Nelson), turning Natalie's life into bi-sexual bizarro world.
Rudd has the quintessential sensitive post-Woodstock man-child portrayal down pat. He's so trusting he asks a sketchy looking dude on a train to hold his money for him -and in one of the film's more amusing moments, he gets it back. Rudd is seldom given anything knee-slapping hilarious to say, but his naivety and gentle nature will keep you hoping he can unravel the mess he's made of his sister's lives and that he'll at least get visitation rights for his four-legged friend, Willie Nelson.
T.J. Miller is comedically clueless as Billy, who's even more of a laid-back loser than Ned. As Janet, Ned's ex-girlfriend, dog-knapping Katherine Hahn expertly hides behind her New Age nuances while mistreating Ned like a woman scorned. Veteran actress Shirley Knight makes the most of her scant screen time as the clan's wine-loving, good-intentioned mom: "You know Neddy, I love you, even though you've never had a real job and no grandchildren... and that business with the police."
The surprise is Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton's kid, Rashida Jones, who plays Cindy, Natalie's lesbian lover. Arguably the most glamorous actress in the cast, Jones goes against type. She wears thick glasses, no make up and a wardrobe straight from L.L. Bean, and successfully rides an emotional roller coaster, going from spunky to love struck to veins-in-the-neck popping jealous.
The cast displays easygoing charm in the extras, which include a "Making of..." feature. Elizabeth Banks says she took the role of Miranda because the script mirrored her own life; she comes from a family of sisters and is considered "the glam girl living in the city." Rudd exposes director Jessie Peretz's famous past (he was the original bassist in the Lemonheads) and reveals the name of Peretz's well-known babysitter that watched the moon landing with him.
There's a preponderance of wobbly Willie Nelson tunes, but even his mumbled country clunkers can't dampen the storyline's feel good mood.
You don't have to have a brother with bad timing or be a horticultural hippie to appreciate Ned's naïve wisdom. While "Brother" isn't for Rhodes scholars, only an idiot would dismiss its easy going charm.