Silver Screen: Our Idiot Brother ***
Our Idiot Brother is a movie that shares key traits with its protagonist: Namely, it's likeable, but exceptionally lazy. The film stars Paul Rudd as the dumbass brother in question, Ned, a scruffy, beatific hippie whose almost childlike trust and naï veté are exploited in the opening scene when a uniformed police officer pleads with him to score some weed. Ned forks it over and lands himself in prison for a few months, and when he returns (quickly, after the credit sequence), his surly new-age girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has found a replacement for him (T.J. Miller) at the organic farm. Worse, she's taken custody of his beloved dog, Willie Nelson.
Homeless-ish, Ned bounces around the houses of his three sisters, who tolerate him to varying degrees. The most sympathetic to his plight is Liz (Emily Mortimer), the domesticated one, who's married to a philandering documentarian (Steve Coogan) and is overprotective of her two young children. Flighty bohemian sister Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is also supportive, although her chaotic living situation with a rotating cast of hipster artists in a Brooklyn loft is too much even for the go-along-to-get-along Ned, and her tempestuous relationship with her girlfriend (Rashida Jones) adds to the strife. The least supportive is social-climber sister Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a career-minded journalist for a glossy magazine who would rather pay Ned off than have him stay at her place, even if he does get along famously with her unemployed sci-fi writer companion Jeremy (Adam Scott).
Our Idiot Brother is largely plotless-- at its core it's a bromance between a dude and his dog-- with most of the conflict divvied up between the sisters and their various domestic problems. That potentially makes for a fine character study, but unfortunately each of the sisters seems entirely defined by an immediately clear, single problem. Liz is too afraid to stand up for herself and her coddled tots, Natalie is too dishonest and selfish to be in a relationship, and Miranda prioritizes success over meaningful personal interaction. It seems obvious that oblivious Ned will drift into their lives, solve their problems (if largely by accident), and then drift on to solve the next problem, and that's exactly the film's trajectory. It's not a terrible idea, just one executed far too simply, and the too-tidy ending makes the foregone conclusion seem all the more silly.
That's not to say Our Idiot Brother isn't pleasant enough to watch, though, largely thanks to Rudd's seemingly bottomless well of charm. Is there a more likable comic actor working? Probably not. Rudd was also the saving grace of James Brooks's affable misfire How Do You Know, where he played George, an uptight business man whose life is in freefall. Ned is George's polar opposite, but Rudd executes both characters with equal aplomb and in both instances is the heart of the movie. Director Jesse Peretz (working from a script cowritten by his sister, Vanity Fair scribe Evgenia Peretz), however, leans too heavily on his star to fill in the film's gaps.
The three actresses who play the sisters are all well-cast and talented. Deschanel is queen of the manic pixie dream girls, and Banks has been honing her quick-witted corporate woman comedy on Thirty Rock for several years. Poor Mortimer is saddled with the least glamorous role, but all three women bring something unique to characters who are too underdeveloped and one-note to resonate. The bit players are strong as well-- especially Scott, Jones, and the excellent T.J. Miller-- but while their few minutes of screentime are pleasant, they are not enough to get Our Idiot Brother any real traction.
In the end, you're happy things work out okay for Ned, and you're glad enough to have seen the movie, but both the story and the film itself seem like a lot of trouble over nothing.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter @bmillercomedy.