Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Hugh Dancy, Rashida Jones, Steve Coogan
Evgenia Peretz, David Schisgall
The Weinstein Company
It's a shame that The Weinstein Company didn't think enough of their latest comedy, Our Idiot Brother, to offer it for pre-screening to film critics (at least in my hometown of Indianapolis). While some films are critic proof and some films are destined for a critical thrashing, there are some films, Our Idiot Brother is one, that could truly benefit from the buzz that film critics and journalists can help create.
The good news is that despite a bevy of mostly B-list household names, Our Idiot Brother's production budget was an incredibly modest (by Hollywood standards) $5 million and, despite very little in the way of word-of-mouth, the film opened at #5 at the box-office with a take just over $6.5 million. It's hard not to think, though, that with a lot more word-of-mouth, this intelligent and pleasing comedy could have doubled its take and turned into one of Weinstein's few winners in recent years.
Our Idiot Brother stars Paul Rudd as Ned, a perpetually honest and good-hearted organic farmer whose extreme devotion to honesty lands him in the slammer thanks to an ill advised, but incredibly well intended, pot-to-cop exploit. Upon his release, Ned finds that his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has taken up with someone else and, even worse, claims ownership of his prized possession, a retriever named Willie Nelson.
With nowhere to turn, Ned turns once again to his family for a place to stay until he can get back on his feet again. Highly successful Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), free-spirited Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and "happily" married Liz (Emily Mortimer) aren't exactly thrilled at the thought of their under-achieving brother's presence, but familial duty leads them to do what they can to help the black sheep of the family.
If this all sounds a bit formulaic, well, it is. That said, director Jesse Peretz (The Ex, The Chateau) works quite ably from a script co-written by his sister Evgenia and her husband, David Schisgall. While Our Idiot Brother isn't flawless, it's a far better comedy than one usually finds during the waning days of summer cinema.
Rudd, admittedly to my surprise, is perfectly cast as the warm-hearted stoner whose willingness to trust to the point of naivete' seems misguided and destined for failure. Rudd and Peretz worked together previously in the far less successful The Chateau, but that history seems to have helped the two arrive on the same page. The result is one of Rudd's most winning performances yet and, without question, dramatic growth as a filmmaker from Peretz.
Our Idiot Brother actually reminded me quite a bit of Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl, though it lacks that film's emotional depth and lasting power. The central characters in both films are seen by the world around them as quirky yet infinitely likable oddballs whose eccentric ways and apparent flaws masks rather remarkable human beings. It doesn't hurt that both films share the delightful Emily Mortimer, whose turn here as a remarkably unhappy woman married to a philandering documentary filmmaker (Steve Coogan, always brilliant in this type of role) adds tremendous depth to the film.
There isn't a weak link in the cast. Zooey Deschanel, a consistently working yet under-appreciated actress, is spot-on perfect as Natalie and her scenes with her partner (Rashida Jones) are frequently hilarious, sweet and authentic. As the most ambitious of the sisters, Elizabeth Banks avoids caricature but doesn't avoid making us laugh. Among the supporting players, the true stand-outs are Rashida Jones, Coogan and Kathryn Hahn.
Our Idiot Brother is one of those rare human comedies that avoids pandering to those who prefer cheap laughs, however, the film also steps away from the recent Hollywood tendency towards edgier, biting comic fare. The film is a light and breezy feel good comedy about people who do, for the most part, actually care about one another and over the course of the film discover simple yet meaningful things out about one another.
It's a shame that The Weinstein Company didn't have enough confidence in Our Idiot Brother to really promote it, because more of America really needs to see this film.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic