Written by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz
Directed by Jesse Peretz
Starring Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer
Ned: I like to think that if you put your trust out there, that if you really give people the benefit of the doubt, see their best intentions, people will rise to the occasion.
Paul Rudd is practically perfect as Ned, the title character in Jesse Peretz’s Sundance breakout, OUR IDIOT BROTHER. The ownership from the title belongs to a trio of sisters played by the lovely Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer. Talent abounds in this quaint, little comedy but the performances are almost lost in the midst of this meandering plot. Fresh from a brief stint in prison for selling pot to a police officer, Ned bounces from sister to sister to sister and teaches each of them a little something about themselves while they let him crash on their couches. Unfortunately, despite all the experience and expertise between them, Rudd and company were not able to teach Peretz anything about structure and timing.
The trouble with OUR IDIOT BROTHER is that it is pretty obvious, or at least it was to me anyway, that Ned is most certainly not an idiot. Peretz goes out of his way to make him look like one during his arrest at the opening of the film. I mean, you have to be pretty darn stupid to sell drugs to a uniformed cop but that isn’t what I took from that scene. I couldn’t figure out why this seemingly good natured, friendly police officer was so hellbent on entrapping this harmless produce vendor. Perhaps Ned is the town dealer but Peretz doesn’t bother contextualizing that at all. Nor does he bother giving us any history on the sisters that shape the film for him. The result is a lot of caricature – from a workaholic to an unhappy housewife to a promiscuous free spirit afraid to commit – and not as much character as a result. The cast easily elevates the material but there is nothing they can do to mask how it will all play out. The question as to who is the real idiot among them is a no brainer from the start.
On the one hand, I commend the filmmaker for not taking the obvious road with OUR IDIOT BROTHER. Peretz could have easily played his game in perfectly constructed episodic segments. Each would establish the appropriate archetype for each sister and Ned would come in and tear it to pieces before anyone has the time to realize it was all for the best. Instead, Peretz tries his hardest to keep things loose and fluid, having Ned constantly moving and always taking us on the scenic route. Given that we end up exactly where we expected to all along though, it seems to me there must have been a more efficient way to get there. Maybe I’m too smart for my own good though.