Our Idiot Brother - movie reviewAh, family... where would comedy be without it? Workplaces might be a good way to clump together people who hate each other with hilarious results - or eventual gunfire - but it really takes someone who’s grown up with you, to know exactly which buttons to press to maximise your anger in the minimum time. That’s where Our Idiot Brother shines: time and again it walks the fine but all-too-familiar line between being a complete jerk and being yourself that makes family life such a minefield. Uh, I mean delight, in case any of my relatives are reading this.
Let’s get one thing straight from the start: Ned (Paul Rudd) isn’t exactly an idiot. He’s just a nice-guy hippie who’s way too trusting. So when he sells pot to a police officer - a police officer who’s in uniform at the time - you kind of feel for the guy even as they’re taking him away for a three month prison stint. Then when he gets out to find his somewhat more militant hippy girlfriend has moved her new boyfriend in (and won’t hand over their dog Willie Nelson), Ned’s forced to turn to his three seemingly-more-together sisters and their half-hearted offers of help.
First there’s Liz (Emily Mortimer), who’s got enough to worry about with her slacker/documentary maker partner Dylan (Steve Coogan) and the seemingly endless rules that prevent their son from having any fun ever. Once Ned moves in he’s soon helping Dylan with his doco - which turns out to involve a surprising amount of somewhat suspicious nudity - in between teaching their son to kick stuff.
Meanwhile, would-be journalist Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) doesn’t seem to realise that her friendship with her neighbour Jeremy (Adam Scott) is somewhat close for two people who aren’t sleeping together. Don’t worry though, Ned spots it right away. Then he makes friends with the difficult interview subject Miranda’s trying to chase down but refuses to betray that friendship by handing over quality goss. As for Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), her relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones) was on shaky ground even before Ned told one of Natalie’s male friends that just because she’s with a girl now doesn’t mean she doesn’t like guys too. For all three of the sisters, it’s all downhill from there.
Director Jesse Peretz isn’t afraid to go for cheap gags (keep an eye out for a surprising and slightly disturbing amount of Steve Coogan nudity), but what makes this work is its essential sweetness. Ned is such a nice guy you can’t hate him even when he’s ruining relationships left and right; his sisters are essentially decent people who just lead complicated and occasionally bitchy lives.
There’s such a depth of comedy talent on offer here that pretty much every single scene contains a gem or two, even if it’s just claiming that any child that enjoys martial arts will grow up to be a “frat boy rapist”. No-one’s really working out of their comfort zone here - Scott’s nice guy act has become a staple since his TV series Party Down, Coogan can play a stuck-up prig in his sleep and putting Jones in men’s clothes doesn’t make her any less charming - but with a cast this big complicated characters would only get in the way of the laughs.
That said, this probably could have been funnier. Many of the one-joke scenes drag on a little long, and while the big comedy moments almost always work, it takes a little too long to get to some of them. Fortunately, Ned’s constant efforts to get back Willie Nelson - which turns out to be the main plot thread, surprisingly enough - are always fun. That pretty much sums up both Ned and the film overall: whatever its flaws, whatever goes wrong, there’s always fun to be had.
- Three stars
Our Idiot Brother opens in cinemas on Thursday, November 3.
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