By Paul Aguirre-Livingston
I read somewhere that Paul Rudd’s lead role in the feature Our Idiot Brother (opened last Friday) was written specifically with him in mind. Well, duh. Take one look at the movie poster and you’ll say, “That is so Paul Rudd”, without being too sure what you even mean. But you’ll think it, and you’ll be compelled to want to watch it because it’s Rudd and he – much like the grassroots-y character Ned he plays – is so damn enjoyable and likable.
A lot of it has to do with Rudd’s sensible comedic chops that don’t often suffocate a scene like, say, Steve Carrell would. Both actors make fine leading men because they’re one and the same; they possess a cross-generational, cross-country appeal and can emulate the every-American. Rudd’s strengths lie in his accessibility – from ’90s heartthrob to doting husband to hippie bachelor. At the core of Rudd’s performances is always the same character: a cute do-gooder with charm. Our Idiot Brother plays off that charm. Its characters and plot, in turn, are simple enough that you’ll fixate on them throughout, forgiving flaws in the movie’s annoyingly hyperbolic scenarios.
The first of these scenarios is when a uniformed officer arrests Ned for pot possession in broad daylight at a farmer’s market; you can tell life’s always been like this for oblivious little Ned. Fresh from federal prison, when the movie actually begins, our charming hippie is thrust back into the lives of his eccentric family, shuffled between the homes of his three perfectly “archetyped” Manhattan sisters: an on-the-go junior editor at Vanity Fair (Elizabeth Banks); a free-loving, sort of directionless lesbian comedian (Zooey Deschanel); and a nit-picky stay-at-home mom of two (Emily Mortimer). The cast of sisters is great as a trio, and their scenes together are usually the best. They also serve to divide the film into three neat, distinct stories so that much of Ned’s character building happens without much effort – it’s just a product of circumstance. The flick could have just as easily been titled “Hippie and the City.”
While Banks and Mortimer are bearable and believable as the hyper-versions of the “real world” women they’re supposed to represent, Deschanel, is, well, just Deschanel. Same girl in Elf, same girl in 500 Days of Summer, same girl here.
Much of the story depends on Ned’s inability to read between the lines, understand basic social cues, and handle delicate situations appropriately. Although the sisters joke about Ned being retarded a little too much (or maybe I’m just too sensitive?), he’s not really dim-witted at all. What translates as idiocy in our emotionally skewed world is actually Ned’s desire to love those around him without limits, and his naiveté is endearing.
This is the most I’ve liked Rudd since his stint as Phoebe’s blind date-turned-husband on Friends. Yeah, Ned is uncomplicated and docile and unflinchingly honest, but he gets it without resorting to token neuroticism – most of the time. I mean, don’t you wish you could live with a little less bullshit?
Our Idiot Brother probably isn’t a game changer; it’s existentialist at best. I’m just happy to see a nice guy stay nice through and through.