Anchor Bay // 2011 // 90 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // December 7th, 2011
Stupidity is relative.
Over the last few years, Paul Rudd has gone from being a supporting character actor to one of cinema's funniest comedians, featured in a slew of Judd Apatow flicks (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and even headlining his own movies (Role Models, I Love You, Man). Rudd is a welcome presence, with movie star good looks and a fine sense of comedic timing, which is the only thing that makes Our Idiot Brother mildly bearable.
Ned (Paul Rudd) is an optimistic but naïve organic farmer who finds himself in prison for trying to sell weed to a uniformed cop (well, DUH). When he's finally released from jail, Ned attempts to go back to his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn, Crossing Jordan) and their farm, but finds she's moved on with dim-witted Billy (T.J. Miller, Yogi Bear). Poor Ned is forced to move out and isn't even allowed to take his cherished dog, Willie Nelson.
Ned finds himself looking for a place to stay amongst his three dysfunctional sisters: the married and frazzled Liz (Emily Mortimer, Lars and the Real Girl), the sexually free Natalie (Zooey Deschanel, (500) Days of Summer), and the prissy Miranda (Elizabeth Banks, Zack and Miri Make a Porno). As he slowly weaves himself back into his sibling's lives, Ned's presence causes a chain reaction of mess-ups, misunderstandings, and general misgivings.
What a disappointment Our Idiot Brother ends up being. With a large cast of talented actors, it's almost a shock to see how flat and lifeless this ends up being. What went wrong here? All of the pieces were seemingly in place for a genial, heartwarming comedy or a scathing, biting satire. Our Idiot Brother could have gone a dozen different ways and been successful, but only ends up going straight down the drain.
Our Idiot Brother is built on a screenplay that feels like a rejected sitcom pilot. "Hey! Let's have our wacky, pot smoking brother stay with all his crazy, mixed up sisters!" Sadly, this plot device doesn't work very well. The sisters are shrewish harpies who either can't stand poor Ned or think he's the biggest moron on the planet (hence the title of the film). There wasn't a single moment when I believed any of these people were related. We spend the bulk of the movie watching Ned screw up and his sisters deal with the familial aftermath (infidelity, pregnancy, children wanting to learn karate). It's all rather inert and boring.
The blame can't be placed on Paul Rudd, who gives a full-hearted performance as Ned, a walking incarnation of a Grateful Dead song. He's truly the best thing Our Idiot Brother has going for it. Rudd infuses Ned with eternal optimism and warmth without being too syrupy. He walks a very fine line of making sure Ned never comes off as a complete idiot, just someone who sees the world through rose colored glasses. Ned's naiveté is what makes him an endearing character; he can't tell a lie and, even when he's saying something terrible, he means it in the best possible way. Rudd's hippie hair and shaggy beard gives him the appearance of a thinner, better looking Zack Galifianakis. Come to think of it, had Galifianakis been featured in this film, it may have had a sharper edge.
It's a shame Rudd's Ned couldn't find a funnier, more interesting movie to inhabit. The secondary characters are all grating and annoying. Elizabeth Banks walks through the movie as if she's angry her agent got her this job. Zooey Deschenel plays a bisexual, wide-eyed artsy type that spends a lot of time looking like she's on Prozac or just finished making out with her girlfriend (played in a nearly throwaway role by Parks and Recreation's Rashina Jones). Emily Mortimer gets the most mileage out of her character; Liz has fallen so deep into motherhood she's lost all semblance of being attractive to the opposite sex. Even the usually dependable Steve Coogan -- great in movies like Tropic Thunder and Hamlet 2 -- lands with a thud, as Liz's philandering, boorish husband.
The biggest problem: Our Idiot Brother just isn't very funny. There's no real wit behind the story, only obnoxious performances and lazy writing. Director Jesse Peretz (whose previous Jason Bateman film The Ex was a complete dud) directs without any showmanship or pizzazz. By the time the film finally ends, almost all the loose threads are tied up in a neat little bow, making the whole thing feel perfunctory. As the movie credits started to roll, I sat there thinking, "That felt like a waste of 90 minutes."
Our Idiot Brother (Blu-ray) is presented in 1.78:1/1080p high definition widescreen. Anchor Bay has put a lot of work into making sure the transfer is nearly crystal clear without any defects or major imperfections. The colors are evenly saturated and the black levels solid. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is good, if not great. Since this is a comedy on par with many of its peers, it tends to be front heavy most of the time. There are moments when the surrounds kick in -- music cues, ambient noise -- but overall it's fairly standard issue. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles.
Considering Our Idiot Brother wasn't a box office hit, fans of the film should be happy the studio included a few bonus features -- Commentary track by director Jesse Peretz, a select few deleted and extended scenes ("Ned Takes the Subway," "Ned Waits for John," "Ned in Prison," and an alternate ending), and a short "making of" featurette that sports the usual talking head interviews with cast and crew.
I wish I could recommend this one, because Paul Rudd is such a warm, amusing actor. Unfortunately, even his talents can't save Our Idiot Brother's boring direction, lackluster characters, and a surprisingly laugh-free screenplay. The entire cast has made far better movies in the past and certainly have better films looming in the future. Check out some of their other work instead.
Our Idiot Brother nearly lives up to it's namesake.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted/Extended Scenes