Review of Our Idiot Brother. It’s yet another corporatized, profit-maximized comedy.
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The spontaneity of the moments captured by OUR IDIOT BROTHER’s outtakes, shown during the closing credits, in no way resemble the insipid and even insulting blather of the film itself. IDIOT is another ham-handed attempt to throw together a lengthy list of famous faces (I’m looking at you, VALENTINE’S DAY) in a bland cavalcade of cinematic clichés and flat characterizations. It’s yet another corporatized, profit-maximized “comedy” showing neither ingenuity nor insight and barely qualifying as entertainment.
Paul Rudd -- an actor whose innately clever sense of humor always emerges in unscripted interviews but is all too rarely displayed in his abysmal choice of films -- plays Ned, a sunny, oblivious hippie type who naively asks a stranger on the subway to hold his cash for him. After serving an eight-month jail sentence for selling dope to an undercover cop (in a clear case ofentrapment, if you ask me), he couch surfs with each of his three sisters while working (not terribly hard) to get his life back on track.
Liz (Emily Mortimer) is a sad-sack housewife and mother of two married to a philandering British documentarian (and major league prick) Dylan (Steve Coogan). Miranda (Elizabeth Banks in an ugly wig) is a stressed-out, unscrupulous writer in an awkward friendship with her neighbor, Jeremy (Adam Scott); oh, and she looks down on him for his lack of health insurance -- a surefire way to alienate many an American moviegoer. And Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is an untalented stand-up comic whose hipster girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones) is a lawyer. Ned gets booted from each pair’s abode after fouling up their relationships with his verbal blunders. “Our idiot brother just ruined my fucking life,” a despondent Natalie weeps into the phone. Hilarious!
Ned is indeed an idiot. Here, Hollywood dusts off that strange FORREST GUMP message that slow-witted men are in actuality very wise, or at least wiser than the more complicated people around them. Yet in real life, Ned would probably end up subsisting on food stamps and the generosity of family, if not strangers, since he seems incapable of caring for himself.
Yet gorgeous women throw themselves at the unkempt underachiever, with his red crocs, nappy beard and grungy tank tops. In fact, they find him irresistible! Meanwhile, most real-life attractive women wouldn’t give this less-than-average Joe the time of day, let alone flirt with him.
Speaking of attractiveness, just as inexplicably, Liz’s sisters inform her that Dylan’s infidelity is partly her fault since she’s not looking her best. We have officially entered Mad Men territory. Dylan’s nowhere near as attractive as Liz happens to be, but men’s looks seem not to register here.
Natalie engages in an enthusiastic sex romp with a photog (IDIOT’s umpteenth celebrity cast member, Hugh Dancy), an easily foreseeable plot twist considering how often lesbians or bi- women cheat on their female partners with men in film and TV these days. (THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, CHASING AMY, GIGLI, Queer As Folk, The L Word, Nip Tuck… You get the picture.) Yes, it’s most likely for the benefit of those straight dudes in the audience, but it also implies that no woman can be fully satisfied by the same sex.
Here’s another gay cliché: while the uber-chill Ned will pretty much go along with anything, trusting everyone he meets -- he hitchhikes, will happily sleep in a goat barn or someone’s garage and can be talked into breaking and enteringdespite his parole; it’s all cool, man! – he draws a big, red line in the sand when a gorgeous woman’s male friend joins them in the sack. That, he adamantly opposes. It’s an objection that just doesn’t ring true for a free spirit all about his feelings and living in the moment, practicalities be damned. And the cliché? While woman-on-woman action is always sexy, man-on-man action, even man-woman-man action, almost always receives a big thumbs down in mainstream films.
Some things make you smile: Ned has an endearing attachment to his golden retriever, Willie Nelson. Banks’s comic timing is great, though largely wasted. Dylan’s observation that “this country is obsessed with screens” (on computers) is so odd and unexpected, it provokes a titter. Ned’s dreadlocked ex has a funny way of sparring with people, and his disastrous conversation with his sister’s girlfriend Cindy had me grinning.
But Coogan’s cringe-worthy flashing of his family jewels feels like a half-hearted stab at mimicking the gross-out slapstick of other comedic films. I found the over-reliance on “fuck” as a verb in casual banter, let alone in front of their mom (played by Shirley Knight) at dinner, rather jarring. And the lesbian jokes -- Cindy cheering “Who’s the man?!” to cheer Ned up, and his reply, “You are?” – seem awfully behind the times.
The near-constant, maddeningly chipper mix of elevator music and generic-sounding indie tunes (i.e. soundtrack possibilities!) helps no one.
Everything of course ends conveniently well for all: the sisters go from despising Ned to adoring him; foundering relationships suddenly heal; unhealthy ones end without drama; and everyone sees the error of their ways. (Except Ned.) A final scene feels ripped right out of (500) DAYS OF SUMMER.
This is Jesse Peretz’s fourth time directing a film -- and his fourth time with less-than-stellar results, based on past reviews. His last two, THE EX in ‘06 and THE CHATEAU in ‘01, (the latter also starring Rudd) scored a 19% and 50%, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes. This is David Schisgall and the director’s sister Evgenia Peretz’s first script.