Ned (Paul Rudd) is an organic farmer who sells vegetables at a market somewhere in Upstate New York. When he’s not selling green veggies, he’s selling green of a different kind – smokeable green, if you will. When Ned falls for a cop’s sob story and sells the officer some swede with a side of hippie lettuce, Ned finds himself going up the river for eight long months.
Of course, Ned, as we soon find out, is a model prisoner and a wonderful person, so he gets out early on good behaviour, only to find out that his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) has dumped him and shacked up with another hippie (Billy, played by TJ Miller), and now Ned is on his own.
Well, kind of. You see, Ned’s got three sisters. Liz (Emily Mortimer) is a mother and homemaker stuck in a sexless marriage to film director Dylan (Steve Coogan). Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is an aspiring writer trying to claw her way up the ranks at Vanity Fair. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a struggling, terrible comedian who lives with her lawyer girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones), and a whole bunch of other people, in some kind of punk squat apartment. Ned finds himself smothered at home, so when his sisters tell him their door is always open for him, he takes that literally.
Cue life-destroying (yet somehow life-affirming) hijinks, as Ned, the Idiot Brother of the title, enters into his sisters’ lives and starts making with the disruption. Not that Ned is mean-spirited or in any way trying to cause trouble, he’s just… not terribly lucky. Will Ned be the ruin of his poor sisters, or will they learn that their brother isn’t quite as dumb as they seem to think he is?
Paul Rudd is as adorable as a man can possibly be in this film. He’s got the sweet nature of Barry from Dinner For Schmucks, but none of the ignorance. Rudd’s Ned is actually very smart, but his problem is a simple one. He’s too nice, trusting and honest, and honesty is not a valued commodity in the world we live in. Ned’s going to say what’s actually going on, and he’s going to do so with the very best of intentions, but it’s just not going to work out right.
Some folks are snake bitten like that. It’s nice to see Paul Rudd play a nice character, rather than his usual fare, and he’s very good at it. He’s a likable guy, and it comes through in Ned’s wide-eyed sweetness. You can’t help but love Ned, and that’s the crucial aspect of his character.
Aside from Rudd, the actresses in this female-heavy film are also very good. Zooey Deschanel and Rashida Jones play a quirky lesbian twosome; Elizabeth Banks is very interesting as the uptight, driven career girl (rather than her usual slacker); and Emily Morton and Steve Coogan make the perfect liberal, yuppie couple raising their son, River (Matthew Mindler), on a diet of exotic dance classes, weird musical instruments, and achievement. Of course, since they’re all out in the real world while Ned isn’t, there’s going to be conflict.
While Our Idiot Brother never quite establishes that Ned is, in fact, an idiot, he does make some dumb choices (for very good reasons). If everyone were a little more like Ned, then perhaps the world would be a better place, but we’re not. Ned brings chaos wherever he goes, bouncing from sister to sister, but he’s trying his best and he means well, and if he didn’t, then there’d be no movie. We have to buy that Ned is sweet enough to do the things he does out of love, not malice, and I think we do.
Paul Rudd’s performance livens up what is an otherwise pretty predictable comedy from director Jesse Peretz, and screenwriters Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall. It’s funny and sweet in all the right places. While Our Idiot Brother isn’t particularly memorable and veers a bit towards schmaltz, it’s a cute enough movie, carried by its star, and a golden retriever named Willie Nelson.