Sunday, September 11, 2011

686 - Our Idiot Brother review

Ned, the titular character of “Our Idiot Brother,” is indeed a colossal idiot, but of the sort you would like to know. He’s more Forrest Gump than Michael Scott, a dimwitted fellow whose sweet nature robs him of the minimum skepticism required to function in our society. We see this in the first scene, where Ned gives marijuana to a uniformed cop. A massively stupid move, to be sure, but it almost makes sense when Ned explains that he just wanted to help out someone having a bad day.

Ned is played by Paul Rudd, Hollywood’s current go-to guy for nice guy roles. Two of his recent films, “Dinner for Schumcks” and “How Do You Know,” put Rudd in the nice guy role, but did so incompetently, mistaking timidity for kindness. He’s about perfect here, his likeability dialed up to eleven, his actions genuinely scrubbed of malice or cynicism. There’s so much rich humor here to be enjoyed from his interface with a world that doesn’t share his disposition.

Eight months after his drug arrest, Ned walks out of prison early, awarded Most Cooperative Inmate several months running. He returns to the farm he called home to discover his girlfriend has taken another lover, as well as having staked a claim to Willie Nelson, his beloved Labrador. He then turns to his three sisters, none of whom share his sunny disposition or wholesome (minus the drug use) sensibilities. He first crashes with Liz (Emily Mortimer), an uptight woman who forces her cruel documentarian husband (box office superstar Steve Coogan) to give Ned a job. In one of the film’s funniest scenes, the stupidity of Ned’s drug arrest pales in comparison to his willingness to believe anything, no matter how preposterous, after catching the husband in a compromising position with a ballerina.

Next comes Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a dedicated career-woman who makes an unwise choice when she asks Ned for slight help with an assignment. And at the end there’s Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a laidback bisexual comedian who initially seems a bit like Ned until we observe habits that render her somewhat less than sympathetic.

Pic functions as a character dramedy, with Ned’s cheery presence gradually ruining his sisters’ flawed lives through his naïve honesty and occasionally self-destructive goodness. It works pretty well until the final 15 minutes, where characters unanimously cease to adhere to the logic of their own behavior for the convenience of wrapping up the plot. Ned cheerfulness drops a notch almost at random, and everyone else suffers a memory wipe in order to rally around the black sheep.

Someone this nice wasn’t cut out for life outside a storybook. So many films feature protagonists that are difficult to sympathize with because they demonstrate such miserable judgment. But Ned’s such a kind person that we can forgive his faults. I wouldn’t want to know the person who doesn’t like Ned.

3 out of 5

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