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Review: Our Idiot Brother (2011)

Our Idiot Brother (2011)

Directed by: Jesse Peretz

Premise: A naïve and idealistic man floats between the homes of his sisters and upsets the balance of their lives with his honesty.

What Works: The title of Our Idiot Brother is misleading; the main character is not an idiot, at least not in the same way that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels’ characters in Dumb and Dumber are idiots. The title character of this film is really an idealist who just doesn’t fit into society because of his altruism. He is also a very empathetic character played brilliantly by Paul Rudd, who is a very good actor. This film gives Rudd an opportunity to showcase his acting talents and Rudd delivers what may be his best performance to date. He strikes a very delicate balance; the character could easily become cartoonish or obnoxious but Rudd’s likeable presence and his character’s flashes of self-awareness and consistent acts of kindness make him an engaging character and he even comes across as heroic, especially in contrast to the cruelty and cynicism around him. Our Idiot Brother is a unique film in that it bucks many of the recent trends in the comedy genre. The film does not rely on bawdy or gross out gags and even the course language is held to a minimum. The humor is found in the ways Rudd’s character collides with the everyday world. This film aspires to more complex and sophisticated comedic goals than a scatological joke and for that aspiration alone the film ought to be praised. The fact that it mostly succeeds in reaching that aim is all the more impressive.

What Doesn’t: Like its title character, Our Idiot Brother tends to wander in its focus. The film is really about the three sisters, played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer. Each of the sisters has her life turned upside down by her brother’s honesty. The intent of the film is to show how the hypocrisy or discontent of their daily lives are exposed and although that happens, what the film does afterward is not nearly as satisfying. The film credibly entangles Rudd’s character in the lives of each of his siblings but when he has exposed or created problems the film shifts him over to the next family member to do it all over again. The story never really confronts Rudd’s character with ideas or situations that challenge or corrupt him. That’s understandable since Rudd’s character is the immovable object but the lessons learned by his sisters are not resolved in a meaningful way either. Too often, Our Idiot Brother goes soft and relies on simple, sitcom style solutions to complex personal problems. It is too bad that the film does this. If it had gone just a little darker or meaner it might have pushed the entire project into another tier of filmmaking.

Bottom Line: Despite lacking focus, Our Idiot Brother is a satisfying film with a great performance by Paul Rudd. It is closer to the offbeat comedies of the past few years like Cyrus and Greenberg than the Judd Apatow sex comedies like The 40 Year Old Virgin or Bridesmaids but it has enough mainstream appeal that is should be enjoyable by a broad audience.

Episode: #354 (September 4, 2011)