‘Our Idiot Brother'
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan
Rated: R for sexual content including nudity, language throughout
Runtime: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Bottom line: Boring and confused
I saw "Our Idiot Brother" this week. At least, I think I did.
I remember buying the ticket — yes, I have the stub to prove it. I remember driving home. In between, I seem to remember some pictures moving, but that's about as much of an impact as the movie makes.
The protagonist, if he can be called that, is an organic farmer so perhaps it makes sense that this movie leaves virtually no footprint. Ned (Paul Rudd) is the no impact man of the year.
Ned serves a little time for selling marijuana to a police officer (we're supposed to overlook the officer's blatant entrapment), then he returns home to discover his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has a new old man (T.J. Miller). Ned accepts all of this in his standard zen-like, love everyone, too-stoned-to-care attitude.
What he can't get over, though, is losing custody of his dog. That's all Ned wants throughout the entire film, his dog.
Ned, a likeable but thoroughly dense man-child, has no place to live, so he relies on his mother and his three sisters. He bounces from one sister's home to the other for the rest of the movie. His intentions are good, but he consistently says and does the wrong things, always causing problems for his sisters.
His verbal slips are supposed to be funny, but the movie provoked a grand total of three laughs from me. That's a stunning degree of failure for a comedy.
Perhaps that's unfair, though. After all, I'm convinced that this isn't really a comedy at all.
"Our Idiot Brother" is actually an unflinching examination of the pain that loved ones inflict on each other. See, the reason Ned consistently says the wrong thing is because he is merely repeating his sisters' lies and dirty secrets.
Ned's sister Liz (Emily Mortimer) is married to a documentary filmmaker (Steve Coogan). Together, they treat their son like an android, programming him to ensure he is admitted to a private school. Their marriage is loveless, passionless and depressing.
Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), another sister, is engaged to her loving, loyal partner Cindy (Rashida Jones), but after a night with a cultish self-help group, she cheats on Cindy with a male artist.
Even less likeable than these two is Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Ned's other sister, who is a grunt writer trying to climb the ranks at Vanity Fair. She interviews royal family member Lady Arabella (Janet Montgomery), who has recently lived through a sex scandal. She assures Arabella that the interview is about the charity Arabella runs to help victims of the international sex slave trade.
But when Arabella confides in Ned and he accidentally lets Arabella's secrets slip, Ned's sister eagerly uses the information in her article.
I bristled at the very idea of working the sex trade subplot into a comedy, but it's merely a symptom of the real problem - the filmmakers could not decide what kind of movie they wanted to make.
The editor who made the trailer for this movie, however, is brilliant, probably a better filmmaker than director Jesse Peretz. I wrote last week that the "Our Idiot Brother" trailer is the funniest of the fall season and I still think so.
This isn't even a case of all the funny moments being in the trailer. Incredibly, the jokes that work in the trailer aren't very funny in the movie. I've never seen it before. The jokes work better out of context than in.
That's probably the most remarkable thing about "Our Idiot Brother," other than the amount of wasted talent. Rudd, Deschanel, Mortimer, Banks, Hahn, Coogan and Jones are all accomplished actors and comedians who deserved better writing and direction.
Sadly, this has become a common problem: funny people stuck with mediocre material. American film comedy is floundering, and at this point I'm wondering who might come along to save it. Ned is certainly not the answer.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.