It is sort of unfair to call Ned Rockliffe an idiot. Sure, he sells weed to a cop and lets a guy talk him out of $800, but his intentions are so damn good. Paul Rudd plays the idiot brother to Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer in Our Idiot Brother, a restrained, often-amusing look at a dysfunctional family. All the parties share the screen nicely in director Jesse Peretz's comedy, which unspools as unpretentiously as Ned's sunshine personality.
After a stint in the pokey, Ned is released to find that his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has moved on with a similarly dopey slacker (T.J. Miller) and has taken his golden retriever, Willie Nelson, hostage. Broke and broken-hearted, Ned calls on sisters Miranda (Banks), Natalie (Deschanel) and Liz (Mortimer) for some assistance, and alternates flopping at the pad of whichever sister is feeling most charitable. Miranda is a neurotic journalist, while Natalie is a free spirit who dates lawyer Cindy (Rashida Jones). Ned bonds with Liz's son, River, but fails to notice that her husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan), has a wandering eye.
Our Idiot Brother is not the funniest or most original comedy to come down the pipe this year, but its lack of pretense is refreshing. Rudd is at ease with a mountain man beard, and his passive good nature eventually gets under the skin of all three sisters. Ned tries to facilitate a romance between Miranda and her neighbor, Jeremy (Adam Scott), but inadvertently turns each party against the other with his lack of filter and common sense. Our Idiot Brother kind of plows through deep issues like depression and infidelity, of which there is a lot in the film, but in doing so it keeps a Ned-approved tone. One of the film's big themes is that Ned is too trusting, too earnest and too optimistic. It is Ned's shit-eating grin that drives his hardened sisters mad and makes them a little bit envious.
It's nice to see Banks, Deschanel and Mortimer together on screen, although they look nothing like biological sisters. The trio bickers about sex and fashion and ribs Ned during a game of charades to the point that he makes an uncharacteristically harsh outburst against their cynicism. Each actress seems to lightly parody her public persona, with Deschanel providing her trademark wide-eyed grin and Mortimer appearing frantically on edge. Jones and Scott are great in their side roles, as is the appropriately slimy Coogan.
Peretz, whose last film was the forgettable The Ex, keeps things moving forward at a nice clip, and remembers not to go too long without providing a hearty laugh. Our Idiot Brother is equal parts comedy and drama, but the film never gets bogged down in illusions of grandeur. Ned, while kind of an idiot, is a good guy, and sometimes that trumps all else. Our Idiot Brother comes and goes quickly enough, and leaves behind little damage.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer from Anchor Bay for Our Idiot Brother is warm and inviting. Detail is solid, and the image is nicely textured. Sharpness is good, with only a few shots exhibiting softness. Colors are bright and cheerful, and skin tones are natural. Blacks are sufficiently dark, and I noticed little noise or aliasing.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack presents crystal-clear dialogue that is balanced appropriately with the score and effects. This is a typical, front-loaded comedy track, with decent ambiance and a few action effects thrown in for good measure. The range is adequate, and I found very little to complain about. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Our Idiot Brother comes in a standard DVD case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras include an audio commentary from Director Jesse Peretz, in which he describes working with the cast, the evolution of the script and filming on a tight budget. The Making of Our Idiot Brother (14:35) is unremarkable, and features little behind-the-scenes footage. Three deleted scenes and an alternate ending (10:05) round of the extras.
As good-natured and breezy as its central character, Our Idiot Brother highlights the bumbling black sheep of a female-dominated family. Paul Rudd is the clueless slacker brother to three sisters, played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer, and manages to wreak havoc on their lives without even trying. Our Idiot Brother finds a pleasing balance between smart humor and familial drama. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.