Note: It’s impossible to discuss some of the problems with Our Idiot Brother without dipping into spoiler territory, so here’s your spoiler warning. If you don’t want to get the basic gist of how the film will end, don’t read this review until after you’ve seen the movie.
Our Idiot Brother is searching for something. Maybe it’s meaning, maybe it’s a plot, but there’s something missing that it’s leading up to but never quite reaches. Much of the film deals with the ways in which a carefree soul impacts the rest of his family, but when it comes time for the negatives to flip around, they do so in basically an instant, rendering any lesson or point without meaning or weight. It leaves the whole production almost meaningless.
Paul Rudd takes the lead as Ned Rochlin, the aforementioned carefree soul. In the film’s first scene, he sells weed to an officer of the law, who was in uniform at the time. He explains that he likes to treat people as if their intentions are genuine, as it’ll make each person live up to them. It doesn’t always work out. It becomes clear as we progress that he’s not exactly the brightest bulb in the batch, frequently not understanding even the most basic of situations.
It doesn’t matter, as that’s where most of the humor is supposed to come from. Ned isn’t all that smart or responsible, so his antics will make us laugh. Or so the filmmakers hope. After he gets out of jail, he has to find a new place to live, so over the course of the film, he spends time living in the spare rooms of his mother and his three sisters, impacting each person in some way or another. Actually, he only really factors in on his sisters’ lives; I can’t think of how his mother gets affected. Maybe there are stresses that get placed on her that we don’t learn about. Considering Ned has never held down a job and he’s pushing 40, that’s a very real possibility.
The sisters: Liz (Emily Mortimer) is the first one that he stays with, along with her husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan). Eventually, he moves on to Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and her roommate, Jeremy (Adam Scott). And finally, he moves in with Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), her partner, Cindy (Rashida Jones), and the rest of their roommates. Along the way, he ruins lives and basically makes everyone irritable all the time because of his tomfoolery.
Or, at least he does until the final twenty minutes of the film, where reconciliation and a whole bunch of other sentimental stuff happens. However, the change comes in an instant without any buildup to it, making it feel artificial and lessening any impact it could possibly have. There is literally one scene in which Ned and his sisters are fighting, and in the very next one, they’ve completely accepted him for who he is and are willing to do anything for him. The audience knows this is going to be the case, as we’ve been watching him subtly improving their lives, but there’s no time for recognition on their parts. They simply figure it out, just like that.
There’s no natural progression, is what I’m getting at, although it’s not limited to Ned’s sisters. He doesn’t change at all as the film moves along either, which is a bit of a problem. He’s teaching them things, but from beginning to end, he doesn’t learn anything. He says sorry for his mistakes, but he doesn’t actually gleam some knowledge from them. It’s the very definition of insanity: He does the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. But it will always be the same. We understand that, even if he never does. And it’s frustrating to watch him go through that, as he is a likable person.
Admittedly, there are scenes that are funny, and I laughed a handful of times as Our Idiot Brother played. Sometimes watching a completely incompetent person act just like that can be funny, and there’s nobody better at playing that up than Paul Rudd, who makes it seem effortless. He’s still charming and charismatic and all those good traits, but he really gets us to buy into the fact that he is, like the title suggests, an idiot.
The rest of the cast is less spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of talent here, but they’re all overshadowed so much by Rudd that it’s hard to even remember a standout scene with any of the other actors. I remembered a dog, though. Willie Nelson, I think was the dog’s name. Gee, he was kind of cute, and there’s a whole subplot involving Ned trying to get back his dog from his ex-girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn). So, there’s that. Go watch it for that dog. It needs all the support it can get. Or something like that.
Our Idiot Brother is occasionally funny, always charming, but progresses too rapidly near its conclusion, leading to most of it feeling artificial and failing to make its point. Paul Rudd does the most he can in a role that doesn’t develop at all, and while the rest of the cast is just fine, their development feels fake. It’s a very familiar film, too, and I can’t help but feel like it’s not worth the 90 minutes it takes to play. I didn’t dislike it, but I didn’t really have a good time, either. But there’s a cute doggy and who doesn’t love one of those? I’m torn.