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Catching Up on 2011: Our Idiot Brother

In the film Our Idiot Brother, Paul Rudd plays the titular idiot, Ned Rochlin.  Ned is an extremely sweet, well-meaning goofball, but he has an uncanny knack for wreaking unintentional havoc on the lives of everyone he encounters — along with his own!  When we first meet him, he’s being busted for selling pot to a police officer — who solicited him IN UNIFORM!  It’s a great introduction to Ned, because not only do we see that he is pretty naive and clueless, but we also see clearly his inherent decency.  He takes pity on the officer who comes to him with a sob story of how tough his life has been, which is why Ned agrees to sell him some pot.  Paul Rudd brings his 100-watt smile and every ounce of his powerful likability to the role, and it’s a great fit for his particular charms and skilled comedic mannerisms.

But Our Idiot Brother isn’t just about Ned, the idiot.  It’s also about the “Our” in the title — that being Ned’s three sisters, played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer.  The three women are extraordinarily well-cast, and this assemblage of comedic and dramatic powerhouses is a huge part of what gives Our Idiot Brother it’s charm.

Elizabeth Banks plays Miranda.  She’s a fast-talking, city-living journalist for Vanity Fair. She’s struggling to make her breakthrough at the magazine, and isn’t above using some unscrupulous methods to do so.  She and her neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott, so brilliant on Party Down and these days on Parks and Recreation) are clearly perfect for one another, though Ned is the only one of the three of them who can see that.  Zooey Deschanel plays Natalie, whose hippie lifestyle involves her living in a commune-style apartment with her girlfriend, Cindy (Rashida Jones, just as much fun and as brilliantly cast as the actresses playing the three sisters) and several other roommates.  Emily Mortimer plays Liz, a stay-at-home mom married to Dylan (Steve Coogan, with his smarminess turned up to eleven, which of course only makes him more entertaining), a documentary filmmaker who is cheating on her with the Russian dancer who is the subject of his latest film.

All three women (four, if you could Rashida Jones’ Cindy, and we really should) are fascinating, strong, sharply-drawn characters.  The film wouldn’t work if they weren’t as interesting as they all are.  These women are all fully-realized people, with strengths and flaws.  As Ned bounds into their lives, his unflinching honesty results, with unswerving consistency, in overturning the carefully-constructed patterns of each of their lives.

Our Idiot Brother is very funny, but there are dramatic aspects to the story as well, and director Jesse Peretz is able to balance the humor and the drama to create a sweet little story.  I didn’t really care for the “everyone’s learned a lesson” epilogue, but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed the film.  It has a strong dose of indy “quirk” without going too far into the land of cartoonish caricatures.  Here, again, the strength of the cast is key.  In the hands of lesser performers this could have been a painfully zany story, but Mr. Rudd and the women around him keep the characters grounded and the audience engaged.

This film wasn’t that widely-seen when it was released this past summer, but it’s worth a viewing.  How could you resist that cast??

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