Paul Rudd is almost like the Tom Hanks of the contemporary comedy scene. He’s got a pleasant and irreplaceable charm about him, movie star good looks, a youthful spirit and he is almost impossible not to like. A few years ago, a film called “I Love You, Man” showcased his ability and set his place as one of America’s most valuable comedic actors as he played a sweet and benign man who sets out to find a best friend/best man before his wedding day. Even in his slightly meaner and more cynical roles in movies like “Role Models” and “Knocked Up,” you cannot help but identify with him and gravitate toward his infinitely appealing personality.
Once again, this nice guy persona does him just right in “Our Idiot Brother.” Despite having one of the trickiest and most cumbersome titles I can remember in a while (I always want to call it “My Idiot Brother”), I really liked the film. While some people might walk in expecting more of a balls-to-the-wall raunchy comedy like “Horrible Bosses” or (God forbid) “The Change Up,” the film is considerably more low-key and nowhere near as vulgar as one would expect. It is funny in the right parts, it is clever, it moves and it ultimately winds up being quite nice and enjoyable.
Rudd plays a bearded, unconditionally content biodynamic farmer named Ned. One day while selling his fresh produce in the town market, a uniformed police officer thwarts Ned by deviously goading him into selling illegal narcotics. Sure, Ned probably should have known better than to do this to a policeman on duty, but the cop’s ruse is just undeserved and you really don't like the guy after the scene plays out. Lucky for Ned, his attitude pays off; he gets out of jail a few months early on good behavior and he even won the title of ‘Model Prisoner’ for four months straight.
He comes back home to find that his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) has ditched him for an even dopier hippie named Billy (T.J. Miller) and refuses to let him 1) work on his own farm anymore or 2) play with Willie Nelson, his dog whom he has a deep affection for. With no money to pay for rent or stay at a hotel (though he will eventually try to raise money to stay on the farm), his only option is to move in with any one of his three sisters. In this dysfunctional family are Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a Vanity Fair journalist, Liz (Emily Mortimer), a married woman locked in a sexually unsatisfying relationship with her emotionally distant husband Dylan (Steve Coogan), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), an artsy lesbian who is hiding a secret from her significant other, played by Rashida Jones.
As Ned alternates between sisters he stays with, he inadvertently causes trouble in all of their personal lives by saying the wrong things at the wrong times. The film follows the kind of clever set-up/punchline procedure employed usefully in “Meet The Parents” and subsequently run into the ground by “Little Fockers.” For example, Ned walks in on Dylan clearly having extramarital relations with a young woman. Later on when he nonchalantly mentions the incident (told through his naïve eyes) and somebody replies with, “That sounds like he is having an affair," he pauses for a bit before he finally declares something along the lines of, “Y’know, I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but that kind of makes sense.” And you can probably tell where the predicament heads from there.
Or maybe you can’t. While certain jokes indeed result in foreseeable punchlines, there are also some whose outcomes threw me for a loop and caught me by surprise. Paul Rudd actually played the receiving end of this type of character in last summer’s “Dinner For Schmucks,” where Steve Carell played the good-natured problem starter that got himself into other people’s business. However, I think I might prefer Rudd’s character, as his idiocy comes from a (comparatively) more grounded and believable reality. He's not destructive, he's not insane, and he certainly isn't angry. The most damage he does is accidentally smashing a child’s fingers in a door, and just like all the other problems, the reason is just pure negligence on his part.
Is Ned really an idiot? Not in the traditional sense of the word, which could be applied to characters better suited for Adam Sandler or Will Ferrell. On one hand, he is just way too nice, he is so trusting (there’s one point where he asks a total stranger on the bus to hold his wallet), he doesn’t jump to conclusions, feels no ill will towards anyone and for crying out loud, he just wants to farm and play with his dog in the sunshine. Maybe a more fitting title would by “Our Brother Who Just Can’t Shut His Big Maw,” but I digress. I like this fellow, and I would love to be friends with a guy like Ned…well, as long as I don’t have a deep dark secret at the time of our friendship.