Our Idiot Brother may be an ensemble cast, but its music is suited for only one character: Paul Rudd’s Ned. Relying heavily on Eric D. Johnson and Willie Nelson, the pleasant afternoon tunes are great for a character that continually hopes for the best and looks on the positive side of things, but less fitting for the rest of the characters, whose embittered attitudes have often caused them to follow one selfish whim after another.
At the beginning of Our Idiot Brother, Ned (Rudd) is a biodynamic farmer who gets busted for selling pot to a cop...in uniform. Though a person would have to be a complete idiot to end up in jail for this, Ned’s blunder somehow comes across as believable, even endearing. Unfortunately, his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) is less keen on the whole occurrence and begins dating Billy (T.J. Miller) in Ned’s absence. A rather heartless woman, she even keeps Ned’s dog, Willie Nelson.
Many changes are on Ned’s horizon. Unfortunately, he has no way to meet the monetary expectations of everyday society, and so he traipses to his mother’s place, hoping for a handout or some work from one of his three sisters. There’s Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), who is too busy clawing her way up the Vanity Fair food chain to realize her neighbor, Jeremy (Adam Scott), is in love with her. There’s Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a free spirit and occasional lesbian who has her eyes on hunky artist Christian (Hugh Dancy), even though she’s in a committed relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones). Then, there's Liz (Emily Mortimer), an uptight mother and frazzled wife, whose husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan), has not been particularly present in recent years.
After he is transplanted off the biodynamic farm, Ned spends the rest of Our Idiot Brother hopping in and out of his sister’s lives, fixing some problems while creating others. If the focus were on Ned the whole time, Our Idiot Brother would have the potential to be the rare character study that makes for a rampant comedy. By trying to flesh out Ned’s sisters and giving momentum to many of the other side characters, the storytelling becomes very convoluted, occasionally giving cause for a head-scratch or an unsettled sigh of confusion -- moments that are as apt to take us out of the film as they are to lose a joke.
Our Idiot Brother has some good stuff, too, much of it revolving around Paul Rudd and his interactions with other characters. A conversation between Rudd and Scott over Banks' character stands out prominently, as does the bonding of Rudd and Jones’ character over the loss of Rudd’s pup. T.J. Miller provides some of the most standout comedy in the film -- he deserves a shiny medal for the comments he deploys, much of his prowess due to impeccable timing. Few moments in Our Idiot Brother are written simply for laughs; however, when it gets in a groove, Our Idiot Brother can be a whole lot of fun.
The whole thing boils down to telling an investing story versus going for laughs. Exploring the dynamics of a positive (to the point of being naïve) male and his family sometimes works in Our Idiot Brother. Often, though, the film doesn’t achieve the right balance. Which doesn’t make Our Idiot Brother a bad movie, just a confused one. It all boils down to whether or not we want to spend an afternoon following a perpetually happy dude and watching his completely unhappy sisters muck up their lives and occasionally get some things really right. With Eric D. Larson in one ear and T.J. Miller in the other, I think we can.
Our Idiot Brother got a pretty wide release for a film with a $5 million production budget, but its bonus features certainly read like a tiny indie. First on the ballot are a few deleted scenes. Most of them are from the end of the movie, and all of them make the movie better for having been cut. There are a few good lines in the deleted scenes, though, so give ‘em a chance.
Following the deleted scenes is a “Making of” segment that isn’t too lengthy and tells a lot about the film. In this bit, we also get to hear a lot from director Jesse Peretz, who can’t shut up about how excited he was to work with Paul Rudd. His sister, Evgenia, who helped concoct the story, also talks about the direction of the movie. It’s an alright “Making of” segment, although I prefer Peretz in the feature commentary which is also included on the disc.
The only noticeable misses here are no gag reel or outtakes. A few gag-reel type moments show up in the “Making of” segment, but it is almost like the Weinstein Company is trying to say, “Hey, we’re too good to be thought of as a comedy” -- which, when you get down to it, is pretty much the identity crisis stifling Our Idiot Brother.