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Our Idiot Brother: A Waste of Talent

By Brock Wilbur · August 29, 2011

Our Idiot Brother is an indie comedy that stars Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Coogan, TJ Miller, Adam Scott, Hugh Dancy, and Rashida Jones. We have to get that out of the way from the start, because I’m just pulling the band-aid right off: It’s not funny. It’s not a funny movie. Nor is it that good at being a drama. Nor is it that good at being believable, or interesting, or… good. Which serves as a staggering accomplishment.

It’s the most exciting cast list of any film this season. Rudd opposite Coogan. Scott with Banks. Deschanel and Jones making out. These match-ups could launch three separate features, yet somehow combine into the most squandered film opportunity imaginable. 

This marks the second time I’ve been tricked by you, Director Jesse Peretz. The Ex (2007) about Zach Braff’s fears of a handicapped Jason Bateman winning the love of Amanda Peet, another film with an impressive extended cast of talented thespians and comedians, was one of my great disappointments of that year. I don’t get it, JP. The talent is there, the plots are there… where is this going so wrong? You did the music videos for Foo Fighters’ “Learn To Fly” and The Lemonheads “It’s A Shame About Ray”. I know you can make me laugh in three minute bursts. Why can’t that expand to ninety minutes?

Our Idiot Brother opens with Rudd selling pot to a uniformed police officer. Ugh. Sorry, one moment. Look, there’s almost no reason to explore the rest of the film’s plot, because this initial set-up is just repeated scene by scene throughout the rest of the film.

Rudd’s character, a happy go lucky simpleton, believes that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mesh well with his inability to control his mouth or his childlike actions. From the opening scenes onward, it’s a steady rehashing of Rudd learning a secret or being told not to do something, finding himself telling the wrong person or doing the wrong thing, and then the audience gets to see the entire fallout unfold as miserable exposition.  It’s not fun or interesting when you see where it’s going from the start. The moment one character reveals she cheated and became pregnant, you know five minutes later Rudd will inadvertently reveal that information to the pregnant girl’s partner, and then we watch them yell at each other. It’s not funny; it’s just painful.

Rudd spends the film bouncing from apartment to apartment through New York, wrecking the lives of his sisters, at a rate of one per act. This is ostensibly done in the service of Rudd working up the money to move back into the farm his ex-girlfriend runs with her new boyfriend, so that he can be reunited with his dog, Willie Nelson. His family constantly feels put upon by him, but for a group of well-off Brooklynites, you’d think they’d just get the $500 together and send him on his way. It’s an easy out that could have (thankfully) negated the whole film. Especially a third-act action involving Willie Nelson that was the most ridiculous use of Dog Ex Machina since the lake-based finale of Must Love Dogs. (Is it wrong I feel more concerned about spoiling the finale of a Diane Lane film from 2005?)

Instead, we suffer through a train wreck of human emotions and in-fighting that seem so logic-less and insincere, you instantly give up caring about certain characters. One actress doesn’t seem capable of crying through the saccharine finale, so she simply states: “I feel like I could cry.” As an audience member, you feel much the same. “I feel like I could laugh/care/stay awake, but just… no.” Maybe that’s the worst criticism I can bring, is that the film is boring. Once you recognize early on that no one will grow or truly change, especially your main character, the rest is just a slog through people rehashing the situations you’ve already seen and being cruel to each other over petty crap that you don’t care about.  All leading up to a final fifteen minutes of straight, intense, focused eye-rolling.

But watching Paul Rudd smile always makes me smile. And since he’s smiling through 85% of the film, while dancing or bouncing on a trampoline or re-creating the Pink Panther films with a small child, I’m sure I looked like an idiot too; grinning through gritted teeth. And maybe the combination of glorious good natured Rudd and aforementioned thirty-seconds of alt-comedy girl on girl will be enough to guarantee this film does well at the box office. Which it doesn’t deserve. It wasted not only the best cast of the year, but one of the greatest female line-ups in history, on a story that was so unbelievably subpar it makes you wonder how it was ever made.

It’s fluff. I’d say it was fine for whatever it is, but you can’t assemble a cast like that and miss the expectations by THAT far. The script tries way too hard for laughs it never gets, and the actors aren’t given the freedom to save it. Better luck next time, but PLEASE let there be a next time. It’s okay if I just know they’ve all signed on to the Party Down movie or something… Which would be excellent news, because then you could skip this movie, guaranteed you’re not missing anything.