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OUR IDIOT BROTHER

 

As story gravity always seems to unbalance whenever black sheeps return to their dysfunctional herd, everything seems to fall apart when the sisters' title sibling stumbles back into their lives.

 

"Our Idiot Brother" is different from similar-looking movies (and certainly special) because it puts the necessity for honesty at the center of all conflicts. However simple such a requirement might seem, it's just as Billy Joel once sang: "Honesty is such an ugly word, everyone is so untrue." That, and it's not often we get a comedy with such a great cast, and this amount of laughs.

 

Paul Rudd ("I Love You, Man") plays Ned, a hilariously stereotypical hippie/stoner with shaggy hair and a dog named Willie Nelson. Ned is arrested for selling drugs to a uniformed police officer, which happens when Ned earnestly sympathizes with the officer's apparent anxieties.

After being released from jail he moves back to the city to live with his sisters, who have created dramatic lives of their own.

 

Zooey Deschanel ("500 Days of Summer") plays his sister Natalie, a stand-up comedian with an awkward delivery of her awkward jokes and a partner named Cindy (overplayed by Rashida Jones from "The Office."). Her story feels like itís the shortest of three, even though itís got just as much dramatic weight as any of sisters', if not more.

 

Elizabeth Banks ("Zack and Miri Make a Porno") is the uptight Miranda, a fledgling wannabe writer who is looking for her big break with a confrontational piece for Vanity Fair. She has a platonic relationship with her neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott, "Step Brothers"), and neither are daring enough to discuss their possible feelings.

 

Emily Mortimer ("Shutter Island") plays Liz, the oldest sister. She's married to documentary director Dylan (Steve Coogan, from "The Other Guys"), and they seem to have lost their excitement for each other. Their real focus is on getting their son River (Matthew Mindler) into a good school.

 

Ned is the definition of amicable, and doesn't seem to have the part in his brain that allows him to lie. He doesn't sweat the small stuff (he simply smiles to himself when a girl rejects his date offer) and he understands that humans are prone to error. He's an ideal pal (or political candidate, actually). Aside from his association with illegal drugs, what's really preventing him from being someone we should idolize?

All of Ned's hunky-dory features make for a very funny clash against the brains of the rest of the world, as his lack of questioning of certain acts makes for great awkward humor, and mistranslations that sound silly to us, but come from an earnest place. Ned isn't an idiot. He just trusts people. (As he says to someone, "People will rise to the occasion.")

 

With its clever story, and organic course of sometimes funny, sometimes dramatic events, "Our Idiot Brother" dishes out some surprising soulful food for thought. Would we feel better with ourselves if we were honest to both ourselves, and those around us? What have we been missing from our lives just because we're lying about something? These are all pretty profound questions, and yet they come earnestly from a Paul Rudd movie.

 

While it does offer these ruminations, "Our Idiot Brother" also has a gap in its understanding. This is the type of movie that could use a little more back-story to its center-family, and especially Ned. If Rudd's character were some type of mythical character, it may not feel so necessary, but it's clear from even before he goes to jail that

he's got a honesty "issue." So when did it start? Did being a hippie have anything to do with this, or is this what made him a hippie? Are his sisters even surprised by his behavior? One simple flashback to the family in younger days could have solved this (and would have made for great imitation comedy, too).

 

"Our Idiot Brother" is the kind of unique movie that doesnít require our full emotional attention to still influence us with its positive attitude. With its funny cast that features the sunny Paul Rudd and his sweetheart on-screen sisters, this little gem has got pounds of organic laughs and some great vibes. It just makes you feel good, man.   -- NICK ALLEN, is also a film critic for The Scorecard Review and member of Chicago Film Critics Association

 

NICK ALLEN

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