Film Review: Our Idiot Brother
I had very high hopes for Our Idiot Brother. Starring Paul Rudd with a backup cast of Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer, Adam Scott and Steve Coogan you would think this film has everything going for it. Instead, it is a stale rehashing of tired clichés with barely enough laughs to get you through its 90 minute runtime.
Rudd plays Ned, a hapless hippie who is plucked up from his idyllic stonerdom when he sells weed to a uniformed police officer. While in jail his surprisingly uncool girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), takes up with another dope (T.J. Miller) and overtakes their farm. Ned is left to wander on his own, without his woman or his dog (she took him too), eventually landing in New York City to crash with his mother (Shirley Knight) and bug his three sisters.
Each sister is more annoyingly cookie-cutter than the next. There is Liz (Mortimer), the over-bearing mother enjoying the silver spoon her filmmaker husband (Coogan) has endowed her with. Miranda (Banks) is the ambitious journalist desperate for her big break at Vanity Fair, trying to tame her own sexual confusion with her neighbor (Scott). Natalie (Deschanel) is the yuppie-hipster who lives in a communal art-space with her lawyer lover (Rashida Jones) but can’t decide if she wants to be a stand-up a comic, a cult follower, a lesbian or all three. As much of an idiot as Ned may be, he is the only one among them with a clear vision of who he is.
It feels like director Jesse Peretz and writers David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz set out to make a film from a different era, perhaps after watching Hannah and Her Sisters a few too many times. Coogan’s artistic putz, for one, is something of a clone of Max von Sydow’s Frederick, as are the finite lines along which these sisters cleave. None of Peretz’s characters are well developed or even slightly realistic. Miranda, the seeming go-getter, is a terrible journalist. It’s tough to give her even an ounce of sympathy as she clunks along and commits a grievous error, blaming Ned for her own stupidity.
The film feels like a talky comedy from the 1990s peppered with some more modern man-child toilet humor (including a very funny, if brief, threesome). The cast does their best, but their characters are much too flat for them to be able to do too much. Rudd especially is charming and comically doofy, but not enough prop up the entire film. His character is a change agent, relegating him often to the wings instead of the spotlight.
Our Idiot Brother puts on display a few New York stories that have been told a million times over without bringing some originality to the table. The film gets flung off a cliff about 15 minutes before the end credits. Peretz shows us all of his cards early on and leaves us to watch the thin plot sappily tied up. Thankfully, we are a given a few rays of light in banter between Rudd and T.J. Miller. Had the whole film just been the two of them playing off one another, it would have been a much funnier experience.
Our Idiot Brother opens today. For more information check out the film’s official site.