Actors always vent about starring in comedies and how difficult it is finding the right method to choose when it comes to making audiences laugh. Paul Rudd not only loves making them laugh, but he excels at the niche he has carved for himself. He has an earnest facial expression for every reaction and somehow makes each of his characters have their own identity, even though at times they can seem like blood relatives.
Over the years Rudd has played second fiddle to A-list stars, gelled perfectly as a supporting character and has been in enough bromance films to make Richard Pryor jealous. Our Idiot Brother is simply another showcase of how talented Rudd is as an actor and a comedian. In the most subtle way he is given a real opportunity to headline a film for once and in doing so, he glues the pieces of what could be a flawed film together.
The story is a typical one with indie comedy pics, and it concerns an eccentric family with a specific misfit causing trouble. As the title suggests, Rudd obviously plays the problem child most often labelled by his siblings as an idiot. This nickname is undoubtedly earned in the first scene where Ned (Rudd) sells marijuana to a uniformed police officer at a farmer’s market. Ned’s philosophy is relatively simple; rhubarb and weed can cheer up anyone’s day, no matter their occupation.
After his time in jail (where he is named the most model inmate four months in a row), Ned is dumped by his hippie girlfriend and has no choice but to happily knock on the door of his loving sisters. It’s interesting to note how friendly the whole family is early on at a dinner, with everyone supporting Ned with kind, yet at times sarcastic, words of wisdom.
This is a prelude to the intimate time he begins to spend with them throughout the film, and when his relationship with all of them starts to fall off the hinges. Each sister is as different as the next, one being an ambitious journalist (Elizabeth Banks), another a free spirited bi-sexual (Zooey Deschanel) and the last is a bogged down mother of two (Emily Mortimer). Ned has his own way of acting with each individually, but always shows endless amounts of love towards all of them, not to mention anyone he comes in contact with.
What unfolds in Our Idiot Brother is Ned rationally behaving as himself, which in turn leads to all sorts of miscommunication and strife among his family. It’s Rudd that makes everything watchable, he enhances the supporting cast that’s built around him. He breezes through situations with such ease, and it’s even more fascinating when his performance overall is so one-note. Ned appears to be a one dimensional character from afar, he is a laid back stoner and that’s all his sisters see.
But what everyone soon realizes is that he is full of energy. He isn’t an idiot at all, and this is the film’s biggest surprise as well as its only real weakness. Rudd makes Ned such a likable and infectious force of “good will” that seeing him get into petty squabbles because of his inability to lie or be too trusting is a cheap way out. The script is chock full of clever lines and well-written personalities, but when the climax arrives it comes off as forced. The way it all comes together seems as if it was re-shot numerous times until all the random strings of storyline wrapped up conveniently.
Even without a proper payoff, this is a movie that is almost impossible to dislike, and to leave without feeling some emotional attachment to Ned. He’s a movie hero that doesn’t overstay his welcome, and this is due to the appeal of Rudd. It’s not a showy performance and it relies heavily on invested time. The audience comes to realize Ned’s qualities, but it never crosses the line into schmaltzy sentimental territory. This is what makes a scene towards the end of the film deliver such an honest and profound moment for Ned, when he loses his cool and finally changes character for only two minutes. It’s enough for his sisters to understand how important their brother is to them and why he exists in their lives.
As the sisters, Deschanel, Mortimer and Banks do their part to be opposites of one another and go through the motions with Rudd. Each has their own sub-plot that suddenly becomes entangled with Ned and his bubbly sense of adventure for the unknown. Some of these detours are predictable and set Ned up for inevitable failure, but it isn’t enough to sidetrack Our Idiot Brother. Rudd has so much fun with this role and it’s evident from every actor’s face throughout the experience. Anyone who meets Ned is affected by him like a disease that you can’t shake away.
As for Ned himself, he’s so used to seeing the best in everyone he meets and no matter what the outcome is, he doesn’t even consider an alternative lifestyle. Probably the funniest and most outrageous scene involves Ned in a threesome with another male. Even during this awkward situation he can’t seem to stop what’s going on because it would require him to be rude and in his eyes, act disrespectfully.
This is what makes Our Idiot Brother a comedy that is worthwhile due to its strongest attribute, the main performance. Nothing he does is out of character and before his act becomes stale, the film ends on a perfect note. In fact, the last two minutes is ironic and incredibly clever given the situation Ned stumbles into; a sequel could even come of it.
Our Idiot Brother comes at the heels of a summer full of gross-out comedies, and while it does have its fair share of shocking images, nothing is inappropriate. Rudd is such a charismatic presence he lifts the movie up above the point of mediocrity. It’s so rewarding to follow a lead who is caring, trusting, playful and compassionate, even if this makes him an idiot.
Our Idiot Brother is an enjoyable comedy thanks to its strong supporting cast and a terrific central performance from Paul Rudd.