' ' Cinema Romantico: Our Idiot Brother

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Our Idiot Brother

The beginning of “Our Idiot Brother” really could be a parable straight outta the Bible. A biodynamic farmer was selling at a local market when a uniformed police officer happened to approach and request a bit of the ganja. Cordially skeptical, the biodynamic farmer declined. But upon hearing the police officer complain of stress and a tough week on the job, the biodynamic farmer took pity on him. He handed him a bag of the ganja and accepted payment of $20 only because the officer respectfully insisted. Three seconds later, he was arrested. But not for what he’d done wrong. Only for what he’d done right. “Go and do likewise,” he said to his cellmate in cell block #9.

Okay. So maybe it’s a Bible parable by way of Cheech Marin (somewhere my confirmation Pastor is shaking his head) but this a perfect intro to Ned Rochlin (Paul Rudd) and his unwavering, well-meaning, naïve belief in the human spirit, a belief not reciprocated by his dreadlocked lady friend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) who kicks him out of the house and off the biodynamic farm once he is let out of prison. Oh yeah, she also – like the meanie she is – keeps his dog…..Willie Nelson. (Ha ha! Ned’s a STONER! GET IT???!!!) Thus, Ned’s three sisters, mostly against their will, are forced to step up one-by-one and let in their idiot brother.

His three sisters all have problems of their own. Liz (Emily Mortimer) is married to a documentarian (Steve Coogan) so douchetastically aloof she has essentially shut down and entered the most remote reaches of denial. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a wannabe journalist at Vanity Fair who would have us believe she's the equal of Nicole Kidman in “To Die For." Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a slightly scatterbrained prospective standup comedian in a lesbian relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones) who consistently comes across so above and not worth the fray of this Rochlin family that you wish she could just kind of go off and be in her own movie about becoming the first person in the world to circle the earth on a hang glider. (Late in the movie she and Ned team up for a Willie Nelson Rescue Operation that is not afforded a proper payoff.)

It goes without saying that Ned’s cluelessness will expose cracks in the respective livelihoods of his sisters and that at first they will be unfairly offended and annoyed by his idiocy before they eventually come around to realize his idiocy and his idiocy alone has helped transform their lives for the better. Everybody wins! Yes, even the young closed-off son of Liz with whom only Ned makes inroads by simply (gasp!) taking an interest in what the son likes and inadvertently suggesting perhaps parents would be better off ditching all those clichéd child-rearing manuals and smoking weed instead.

The authenticity of all this hinges on Rudd who must achieve being likable while being simultaneously unwittingly meddling while never grating on our nerves. He manages his feat of strength nimbly and even manages – in the film’s most serious and not necessarily by extension finest moment – in a scene set improbably around charades to make our hearts crack just a little bit. It’s the scene that despite the non-smelly sort of Pigpen haze that seems to surround him at all times proves Ned is not daft. He’s aware of his surroundings and of who his sisters are and of who he is, a fact which is underscored by his humane treatment of famed socialite Lady Arabella (Janet Montgomery), a piece of plot that would have gone the other way in 9 out of 10 movies.

There’s an actual verse in the bible that goes something like this: Why do you pass judgment on your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” Speaking of which, wouldn’t you love to see Ned’s conversation with God at the judgment seat?


Derek Armstrong said...

It was the scene you mention involving charades that kicked this movie up a notch for me. At first I found it a bit cutesy, but the necessary dimension revealed about his character in that scene made me appreciate the whole movie on a new level.

Nick Prigge said...

That scene - or his reaction in that scene, I guess - sort of took the wind out my sails. In a good way. You're right, it took something cutesy and made it more. I always love it when a movie unexpectedly takes it up a notch.