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Sunday, November 27, 2011

OUR IDIOT BROTHER -- DVD review by porfle

It's usually a bad sign when a movie opens with a happy-go-lucky acoustic guitar ditty, but OUR IDIOT BROTHER (2011) gets away with being precious because it's such a wry poke at preciousness.  And the main character, Ned (Paul Rudd), is happy-go-lucky to such a wide-eyed fault that he brings comic ruin to the serious-minded around him.

Paroled after serving jail time for selling weed to a uniformed cop, Ned returns to the farm where he worked to find his former girlfriend Janet shacking up with another guy--the spaced-out Billy, with whom Ned becomes fast friends--and claiming custody of his beloved dog, Willie Nelson.  Adrift, Ned is taken in by his mother (the venerable Shirley Knight) and three sisters, whereupon he proceeds to accidentally wreck their lives with his uncomprehending innocence, honesty, and trust.

The three actresses playing Ned's sisters are all excellent.  Elizabeth Banks is Miranda, the frantic overachiever whose attempts to score a Vanity Fair interview with a controversial heiress are complicated when she befriends Ned and opens up to him about her newsworthy scandal, the details of which he then refuses to divulge to Miranda because they were told to him in confidence.  Banks plays the altercations between Miranda and Ned with just the right tone of frazzled, incredulous indignation along with a sort of desperation we can identify with.

Emily Mortimer is Liz, a New Age mom who, along with her snobby, unfaithful documentary-filmmaker husband Dylan (Steve Coogan), is horrified when the repressed trophy child she's trying to raise begins to emulate free-spirited Uncle Ned.  Lastly there's the youngest, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who almost splits up with her lesbian lover Cindy (Rashida Jones) when Ned inadvertently spills the beans about her pregnancy due to an impromptu fling with a male artist.

Rudd is effortlessly funny as Ned because he doesn't try too hard to convince us that he is, and neither does the film.  This allows a subtle warmth and charm to spring naturally from the conflicts between honest Ned and his sisters, who, like most of us, rely on a certain amount of deception to keep their lives from falling apart.  And when they do fall apart one by one, the drama is so easily interlaced with the humor that there's no need for the story to jarringly alternate between the two.  At least, that is, until an emotional outburst which has been building throughout the film finally erupts, setting up the nice, albeit somewhat pat and anticlimactic ending.

It's fun watching Ned wander through his family's midst causing friction at every turn without even trying, and, to the sisters' consternation, earning the respect and friendship of those closest to them with his laidback, open attitude.  One of the funniest scenes has lawyer Cindy eagerly joining him on a commando raid to get Willie Nelson away from Janet, which comes to a screeching halt when Ned chooses the wrong moment to inform her of Natalie's pregnancy (as usual, Ned and Billy exchange pleasantries while Janet berates them both).

Another highlight comes when Ned barges in on Dylan's illicit love tryst with a Russian ballet dancer, and totally buys Dylan's cock-and-bull story about how he must "get naked" himself in order to coax his reticent documentary subject into baring her soul to him.  And then there are Ned's perilously frank conversations with his nonplussed parole officer Omar (Sterling Brown), whom he regards as a kind of therapist.  But perhaps the nicest moments are those between Ned and his nephew River (Matthew Mindler), whose joy at being allowed to be himself and do forbidden fun stuff--like watching slapstick "Pink Panther" movies or taking a karate class instead of dutifully practicing on an obscure woodwind instrument--is infectious.   

The DVD from Anchor Bay and the Weinsteins is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Bonus features include a commentary by director Jesse Peretz, deleted scenes and alternate ending, and a making-of featurette. 

Barring that one big emotional blow-up scene late in the film, OUR IDIOT BROTHER does a great job of maintaining the perfect blend of warm, playfully irreverent comedy with a story and characters that are realistic enough to care about.  I like that Ned doesn't self-righteously try to change his sisters, their values, lifestyles, etc., but rather wields a great and ultimately beneficial influence on their lives simply by being himself.  And the funniest thing about it is that, yes, sometimes he really is an idiot. 

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