Our Idiot Brother

If you really give people the benefit of the doubt, see their best intentions, they’re gonna want to live up to it.

When are characters going to wise up and realize that it’s always the fool that knows best?  Oh, and children too.  I suppose that they’ll figure that out right after they figure out that the cool person down the hall is absolutely destined to be their life partner.  And then they’ll realize that nobody’s really a lesbian.  Oh wait, maybe not that last one.

Ned (Paul Rudd), the titular idiot, is the sweetest fool you’ve ever seen.  He’s a little bit hippy, but he’s mostly just pure niceness.  After some pretty frustrating entrapment, some jail time, and losing his home/girlfriend, he’s got to crash with the fam.  Living with mom is tough, so he first tries to stay with sister Liz (Emily Mortimer) and her husband Dylan (Steve Coogan).  After [spoiler], he crashes with bossy sister Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), who is friends with Jeremy (Adam Scott) from down the hall. But then [spoiler], so he crashes with and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a lesbian/omnisexual/untalented stand-up, who is with lawyer/lesbian Cindy (Rashida Jones) but is kind of interested in artist/douche Christian (Hugh Dancy), which leads to [spoiler].  Man, it’s tough to be the only sane, naive person in this mixed up crazy world.

Our Idiot Brother (2011), directed by Jesse Peretz, is all the things they said–heartwarming, funny, … and heartwarming.  Well, I don’t know how warm my heart got, but I did laugh pretty often.  Or smiled.  I smiled.  Totally.  I’m just not sure that Jesse Peretz, or anybody, should be getting any writing credits for “story.”  Three characters with relationship issues and a fool of a brother doesn’t really make a story.  But it does make a movie.

Well, no, that’s not quite right either.  It’s Rudd and his endless repository of charm that makes this movie.  They just put him into a series of uncomfortable, giving, or helpful situations and I am instantly happy he’s there.  Why can’t everyone just love him the way I do?  That’s what I’m thinking every time the sisters push him out of their living spaces. Yes, he does end up screwing things up by doing the right thing every time, but hey, stop being such a tool and maybe you wouldn’t be such a tool.

Where this movie falls down, and it’s quite a bracing fall, is that it spends so much time bringing down the sisters that, when it comes to resolving matters, we’ve got about ten minutes.  And by the time we get to that point, there are some serious gaps we’ve yet to bridge or resolve.  More accurately, certain points are dealt with in a way that gives us a issue-conflict structure rather than issue-conflict-resolution structure.

Example: Miranda needs to interview Isabella and get to the delicate parts of her past even though Isabella only agreed so long as the delicate was avoided.  Isabella befriends Ned and tells him some delicate stuff.  Ned tells Miranda (unhappily).  When the magazine requires Ned to confirm, he does the right thing and does not confirm something told in confidence.  That’s that.  No more on Isabella, the magazine, or Miranda’s brutal techniques towards advancement.

This little plot is issue (delicacies required) and conflict (revealing these delicacies) without a real resolution.  That doesn’t mean Miranda has to accept that she’s wrong, she could well accept that she’s right, but she doesn’t examine it even remotely after Ned refuses to confirm.  That’s the difficulty in making four stories in one movie that’s an hour and a half long.  Things get rushed.

But really, this is the trouble with comedy.  No, difficulty, let’s say “difficulty” with comedy.  You’ve got two sides of the coin with any comedy–the funny parts and the real parts.  In reality, being a semi-vagabond, a bossy muckraker, bad stand-up, and abandoned hausfrau are not really funny.  But comedy gives us a sliver of the complications with a nice bow-tied resolution so we don’t get the chance to break the spell.  Good comedies give us a bit of the sadness, a bit of reality, to raise the level of the movie to thought-provoking.

Our Idiot Brother tried to go for good comedy.  They pulled out a little darkness, showed us things getting pretty real, and gave us a glimpse into Ned’s real thoughts.  Too much.  We get Ned, but what about Miranda, Natalie, and Liz?  They’re in some pretty serious complications.  Well, Natalie and Liz are, anyway.  Why do they get to stay so blasé?

Because they’re in the background.  That’s supposed to be the answer.  That’s why Dylan doesn’t need any real humanity and can remain a caricature.  But the problem in this movie is that the sisters aren’t the background, the story is as much about them as it is about Ned.  You can’t be a fool without being the instructor, you can’t be an instructor without the instructed, and you can’t be the instructed without realizing you have a problem.  That takes more than a two minute montage.

There’s only one way they could have made this movie worse.  Well, that’s obviously a lie, but you’ll see what I mean in a second.  After the crack in his even temper, Ned could have shaved and “grown up.”  That would have been terrible.  Instead, everyone else takes it as a wake-up call and instantly change their lives.  That was just a little too easy.  Laziness, I can forgive because it brings the level of the movie down a peg.  It doesn’t send it careening into the gutter.  Thanks, guys, for that.

Best use of Purell ever.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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One Response to Our Idiot Brother

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