Our Idiot Brother - Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschane
Ned (Paul Rudd), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Liz (Emily Mortimer) and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) © 2011 The Weinstein Company

Paul Rudd is Ned, a cheerfully childlike modern-day hippie in this pleasantly innocuous comedy. Ned is so trustingly uncynical he sells weed to a uniformed cop. Well, after all, the officer did ask for some. After a brief stint in the slammer, Ned learns his former girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) is sharing her farm with a new dude, she doesn’t want Ned back, and she’s even keeping his beloved Golden Retriever Willie Nelson. All of which sounds like it could be the set-up for a Willie Nelson song, actually.

Ned also is not especially welcome to stay with any of his three sisters in New York, but each eventually puts him up…for as long as they can put up with him. The recurring problem is that Ned is too honest for his own good, and no good at keeping secrets. He’s so well-meaning, easily satisfied and likably dumb he’s sort of a Little Lebowski. You’re not likely to hear the word “man” used as much in any other film this year, man.

Emily Mortimer is believably intimidated as meek Liz, whose dishonest and domineering husband Dylan (Steve Coogan) is derisively dismissive when Liz reveals that she’s gotten a Brazilian wax. This seems to be 2011’s cinematic shorthand for “jerk,” considering that the same thing happens in the upcoming September comedy A Good Old Fashioned Orgy.

Our Idiot Brother - Paul Rudd
Ned (Paul Rudd) © 2011 The Weinstein Company, Photo by Nicole Rivelli

Hired as director Dylan’s assistant, Ned accidentally discovers Dylan naked with his documentary’s beautiful ballerina subject…but believes Dylan when he explains that he only removed his clothes to make the ballerina more comfortable being filmed. Ned also bonds with Liz and Dylan’s sheltered seven-year-old River (Matthew Mindler), giving him an appreciation for obscure martial arts that will prove problematic during a private-school interview.

The rest of the movie is full of similar examples of gullibility and Gilligan-like goofiness on Ned’s part. It skates close to resembling an amiable pilot for a My Name Is Earl-type sitcom, in fact. But what keeps saving it are the sisters.

Besides Liz, there’s struggling stand-up comic Natalie, played by the always enchanting Zooey Deschanel with her usual irresistibly girly awkwardness. She shares a loft with her butch-is-beautiful girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones) — yes, gentlemen, they do kiss — but Natalie isn’t quite fully committed to the whole lesbianism thing. Cindy’s outraged reaction when she gets that news flash (from guess who) is priceless, and she gets to deliver what is the movie’s funniest and dirtiest line.

Third sister Miranda (a brunette Elizabeth Banks, looking and acting appealingly Parker Posey-ish) is an ambitious but ethics-challenged wannabe Vanity Fair writer. Her neighbor friend Jeremy (Adam Scott), an unpublished sci-fi author with no health insurance, is nevertheless destined to be acknowledged as her obvious soulmate. With a little nudge from Ned, of course

The movie seems so obviously headed for a twist involving a wealthy socialite Ned befriends that the ending used instead feels like a strange choice by screenwriters Evgenia Peretz (director Jesse Peretz’s sister) and David Schisgall.

Then again, it’s hard not to like a wrap-up that includes words of wisdom such as “there’s no such thing as an ugly homemade candle.”


James Dawson

Jim is Film Review Online's Los Angeles based reviewer.