Directed by Jesse Peretz
Produced by Anthony Bregman, Marc Turtletaub & Peter Saraf
Written by Evgenia Peretz & David Schisgall
Released by the Weinstein Company
USA. 90 min. Rated R
With Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy, Kathryn Hahn, Rashida Jones, Shirley Knight, T. J. Miller & Matthew Mindler
Our Idiot Brother is one of those movies about an unwanted, stoner houseguest whose indestructible goodwill cuts through the neuroses of a bunch of stuck-up urbanites. He shows up, turns their lives upside down, and solves all their middle-class problems. It’s basically a hipster You, Me and Dupree, swapping out that movie’s actors for their indie-cool equivalents (goodbye Kate Hudson, hello Zooey Deschanel).
But the film, directed by Jesse Peretz and written by his sister, Evgenia Peretz (children of New Republic editor Marty Peretz and—I’m going out on a limb here—possible nepotism beneficiaries) and her husband David Schisgall, is sometimes pretty funny. The big joke is that the stoned goofball, Ned (Paul Rudd), is so innocently trusting and has such a child-like faith in his fellow man that he’s stupid. As the film opens, Ned’s sent to jail for selling pot to a cop, who only has to complain of having a “bad week” to touch Ned’s heart and lure him into his trap.
And then once out of the can, the hapless Ned’s adrift. While he was stewing in prison, his organic farmer girlfriend—a white hippie chick with dreads—chucked him aside for another stoned chucklehead. So Ned ends up cycling through his three sisters’ homes in New York, each one appropriately set in a specific city niche: the breeder, the yuppie, the hipster. The eldest, Liz (Emily Mortimer), is married to a cheating, arrogant douche bag (Steve Coogan) and is desperate to get her young son into an exclusive private school. The middle child, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), is trying to make her big break at Vanity Fair, while also sort-of in love with her snarky and loser-ish downstairs neighbor. And the youngest, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), is an unfaithful lesbian, who also does standup comedy.
Don’t get me wrong: Our Idiot is not an especially laugh-dense film. But when you consider how broadly drawn and obvious its characters are, laughs are about all it has going for it. As a “New York” film, it’s not even very accurate: the apartments are, of course, impossibly huge. But from time to time, a funny idea coheres. The best bits, it turns out, involve Ned’s fight to gain custody of his dog, Willie Nelson, kept by his ex-girlfriend because she doesn’t want it to get “mixed up” in all of his bullshit.
Paul Rudd, who’s reuniting with here Jesse Peretz, the helmer of their (largely forgotten) 2001 comedy The Chateau, is as likeable as he’s ever been. Everyone else is working through their own brand of typecasting, but perhaps because of that they’re on key. For instance, Coogan by now can play the self-involved asshole bit in his sleep.
If I have a real gripe, it’s that the movie, treating the non-careerist stoner as holy fool, strikes me as deeply fake. Sure, Our Idiot pokes fun at yuppie parents obsessed with getting their kids into a competitive private school, but they’re exactly the sort of people who would show up for a low-key indie flick like this. In the end, it just seems like you’re watching a tribute the overachieving middle class pays to the kind of feckless people it despises—at least, when they’re not on screen.