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Our Idiot Brother - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Our Idiot Brother
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B
Editing: B+

If anything could be said of Our Idiot Brother, it's that it's completely inoffensive -- almost conscientiously so. In spite of its extensive swearing and some brief nudity (but roughly zero genuine sex scenes), to say this movie plays it safe would be an understatement.

Not that that's a bad thing. In fact, it totally fits the title character, played by Paul Rudd in a beard and a mess of long hair that render him all but unrecognizable from any of his earlier parts. He plays Ned, the only son out of four children, his three high-strung sisters (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deshanel) terminally frustrated by his naïve dim-wittedness.

Ned's problem is that he insists on not just a positive attitude -- which hardly takes any effort on his part; it just comes naturally -- but on assuming the best in people. This even includes the uniformed police office who arrests him in the opening scene (one of the few scenes that are a tad forced), who manages to trick Ned into selling him pot.

Eight months later, Ned gets out of jail, and finds his dreadlocked hippie girlfriend has moved on and already has a new boyfriend (one even more dim-witted and naïve than Ned; this actually results in an instantly easy-going rapport between the two men). At a loss for what else to do, Ned first stays with his mother (Shirley Knight), who isn't overbearing so much as dull -- a kind of strange device for the writers to use to force him out of the house. Then, in order to get on with the broader concept of the movie, Ned then wreaks havoc on his sisters' lives as he crashes in one after the next of their homes.

Miranda (Banks) is trying to get a juicy story out of a local heiress for Vanity Fair; Ned manages to get into the woman's good graces without even trying and Miranda takes advantage of it. Natalie (Deschanel) is in a relationship with a woman but can't seem to stop fooling around with men; Ned unwittingly gets caught up in the drama. Liz (Mortimer) is married to a pompous English dick (played perfectly by Steve Coogan) who is having an affair with the subject of a documentary he's filming; Ned quite innocently walks in on a compromising situation and later inadvertently spills it to one of his other sisters.

As you can see, Our Idiot Brother has a great many characters, virtually all of them remarkably well cast. There are plenty of others I just don't have the time or space to mention, but they are all like satellites around Ned's sister-planets, each of them with their own narcissistic gravitational pull. Ned is actually the only one who comes across as truly genuine, and Rudd plays his with the perfect mix of naiveté and sweetness.

The trouble with Our Idiot Brother, even after its many genuine laughs, is its forced wholesomeness, with each character essentially waiting in line to learn a lesson about themselves by the end. In this way, the script kind of devolves in the last half hour or so, everything tidying up in ways so impossible that we might as well be watching a self-contained 30-minute sitcom. There's a difference between plausible sweetness (which Ned displays) and the implausible wholesomeness conveyed by the movie overall, which harkens back to a great many movies played out the same way early in the last decade -- refreshingly, there had been less of it more recently.

On the upside, at least Our Idiot Brother never goes the far-overdone route of gross-out humor. And the triteness of the story arc belies some genuine wit in many of the specific character exchanges, which still makes the movie fun to watch.

And to its credit, it does have ways of setting itself apart, most notably its unusually nuanced treatment not just of gay characters but of how straight characters interact with them. In one scene, Ned inadvertently gets himself invited into a ménage a trois, actually makes an effort at kissing the man, is just unable to do it, and then feels bad about it. This sounds hokey but Rudd actually plays it in a way that it rings true.

If Our Idiot Brother barely works, its thanks to both Rudd and the other actors, all of them rising above material that only occasionally reaches its true potential on its own. They make it an overall sweet and pleasant experience.

Paul Rudd makes life difficult for his sisters in 'Our Idiot Brother'.

Overall: B
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