It’s hard not to like Paul Rudd. The actor has an affable, everyman charm and a real gift for comedy that comes through in almost every role he plays – even when the source material isn’t particularly inspired. Rudd’s new film, Our Idiot Brother — in which he plays the titular dumb sibling — is not a particularly inspired piece of filmmaking, but it nevertheless manages to coast by on good intentions and happy accidents much like its central character.
Rudd plays Ned, a directionless, organic farm-dwelling, hippie doofus who gets arrested for idiotically selling marijuana to a uniformed police officer in broad daylight. Ned is just a friendly guy whose penchant for giving people the benefit of the doubt usually gets him into hot water. After a short stint in jail, Ned heads to the big city for a fresh start and a visit with his family. Or at least that is what he’s hoping for. Ned’s sisters Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimer) are too busy with their own lives to give him much of a helping hand, and he gets passed around from sister-to-sister like a pariah. He does get a little help from Liz’s smarmy filmmaker husband Dylan (the criminally under-utilized Steve Coogan) in the form of a job, only to blow it when inadvertently reveals that Dylan is having an affair. Similarly, Ned nearly destroys the relationship of Natalie and her girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones), all through misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Our Idiot Brother ends up being very episodic in its construction. The audience is presented with a hilarious-yet-tired concept at the beginning of the film – a naive and trusting man in the big city – and that’s pretty much it. We follow Ned on his wacky adventures, wondering what kind of trouble he’s going to get into next and who he’s next going to alienate. Make no mistake, Our Idiot Brother is an amusing film with legitimately funny parts spread throughout, but the film never really comes together to be anything more than that. The conclusion — which I suppose was intended to be a heartwarming moment where the whole family realize they’ve taken Ned for granted — just feels artificial. His family doesn’t deserve him. They spend the entire film being pretty terrible people, only to have a sudden change of heart at the end. All so that the audience can be treated to a disingenuous and clichéd conclusion that some studio exec probably dreamed up.
Counterfeit ending aside, the film does have a lot going for it, if only in moments. Where else can you see Steve Coogan’s ball sack? Or watch Zooey Deschanel and Rashida Jones kiss? Or behold Adam Scott impersonating Kyle MacLachlan from Dune? Our Idiot Brother boils down to a series of funny vignettes, but not much else. Paul Rudd is great; he plays Ned as a more likable and somehow more stupid version of The Dude. In fact, the whole ensemble of Our Idiot Brother is really solid, but the film is ultimately so directionless that it feels almost unworthy of its wonderful cast. Directionless… why does that seem so familiar?