Amusing and lightly likable, ‘Our Idiot Brother’ slides by on the strength of its fabulous cast. Paul Rudd stars as Ned, an organic farmer in upstate New York who is, for want of a kinder description, not the brightest bulb in the socket.
That’s established in the film’s opening scene, in which Ned sells marijuana to a uniformed police officer; it appears that Ned lacks the capacity to think ill of anyone, so he can’t imagine that the officer is lying. Put another way, he always looks on the bright side. Since he also lacks any ability to reason or think things through, he happily regurgitates everything he’s seen and heard without discernment.
The guileless Ned thus manages to injure everyone around him. It’s unintentional, of course, but he’s built up such a long record of being an idiot that his three sisters can barely tolerate his presence. His jail sentence drives his long-term girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) to break up with him, forcing Ned to live with his mother (Shirley Knight) in Long Island.
From there, Ned begins an odyssey of couch-surfing with his sisters, first with stay-at-home mom Liz (Emily Mortimer), then with tightly-wound fledgling magazine writer Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), and finally with aspiring stand-up comic Natalie (Zooey Deschanel). As he makes his rounds, Ned inadvertently injects conflict into his sisters’ relationships: Liz’s documentarian husband Dylan (Steve Coogan), Miranda’s boyfriend Jeremy (Adam Scott), and Natalie’s lawyer girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones).
Though well-aware of Ned’s propensity for over-sharing, his sisters freely confide in him, thus sowing the seeds of their own destruction. Evidently we’re meant to believe that they let their guard down once Ned is in their midst. Their default mode is to blame Ned for everything, which ends up painting unflattering portraits of three self-involved women who haven’t accomplished much of anything on their own.
It’s more difficult to fathom Ned. Positive thinking is one thing, but completely ignoring the consequences of sharing everything with anyone who asks is much harder to countenance. In effect, he’s saying, ‘Let the chips fall where they may,’ disavowing any responsibility for his actions.
For a comedy whose humor arises almost entirely from character-based situations, ‘Our Idiot Brother’ features a plethora of characters who are incompletely drawn. What remains may provoke laughter, but resonates to minimum effect.
Jesse Peretz, who debuted as a filmmaker with the intimate ‘First Love, Last Rites’ and later made ‘The Chateau’ (with Rudd) and ‘The Ex,’ directs with his characteristic light touch. His sister and brother-in-law, Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall, collaborated on the script from a story that he and his sister dreamed up.