With Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Steve Coogan; Running Time: 90 minutes; Rated R (for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout); Written by David Schisgall, Evgenia Peretz; Directed by Jesse Peretz.
How big an idiot is Ned (Paul Rudd) in OUR IDIOT BROTHER? In the opening of the film, he sells pot to a cop. Not to an undercover narc, but to a uniformed police officer. He’s sweet and naïve and gullible, and that’s why his ex-girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) has kicked him out and kept his dog, Willie Nelson, leaving him not only an ex-con but also homeless.
So he heads to New York City to see his mother and three sisters, hoping to find some place to get back on his feet. Each of the sisters has her own issues, and the guileless Ned just makes things more complicated. Liz (Emily Mortimer) has a son on whom she is forcing dance lessons and a husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan), who is having an affair with the subject of his latest documentary. Ned provides the roughhousing the boy craves and stumbles through a brief turn working on the film.
Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is getting her big break as a writer at Vanity Fair when she’s assigned a profile of a celebrity caught up in a sex scandal who only wants to talk about her charity work. Ned, pressed into service as Miranda’s driver, hits it off with the celebrity and gets the dirt, but gets confused when Miranda wants to use him as a source for her story.
Then there’s Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who is in a lesbian relationship but has a fling with the male artist she’s been posing for, leading to further complications. The well-meaning Ned manages to say exactly what he shouldn’t, leading to a potential break-up.
What makes this all funny is that Paul Rudd plays Ned as a well-meaning sweetheart who loves his sisters but isn’t smart enough or cynical enough to play the sorts of games which supposedly responsible adults are required to do. So things spin out of control as Hurricane Ned blows through the lives of his sisters. This has none of the hard edges of a movie like “Little Miss Sunshine,” but it does have a delightful quirkiness to it, with Rudd’s performance holding it all together.
Mortimer, Banks and Deschanel are fun as the three very different sisters united in their concern and frustration. They are helped by a supporting cast that includes Coogan as the arrogant filmmaker, Shirley Knight as the clan’s tippling matriarch, and Rashida Jones as the lawyer involved with Natalie. It’s a light and breezy comedy that is easy to enjoy and ends with everyone where they ought to be, including a too-perfect ending for Ned.
Ned may be “Our Idiot Brother,” but Paul Rudd is no fool, making the most of the opportunities here. Audiences who have seen him in supporting roles or as the normal guy with the zanier friend (as in “I Love You, Man” or “Dinner For Schmucks”) will be surprised that he’s a pretty funny guy all by himself.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being Jar Jar Binks Must Die… And Other Observations About Science Fiction Movies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville.