Our Idiot Brother centres on Ned (Paul Rudd), a cheerful hippie so trusting that he sells a bag of weed to a uniformed police officer who’s had a “tough week.” Released from a short stint in the clinker (high spirits intact), Ned finds himself homeless, and winds up crashing on the couches of each of his three sisters: bisexual wannabe comedian, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel); anxious overworked mum, Liz (Emily Mortimer); and corporate bombshell, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks). As the farce of the sisters’ happy lives begins to unravel, each points the finger at their, well, idiot brother.
Tellingly, director, Jesse Peretz (The Chateau, The Ex), worked on the screenplay with his sister, Evgenia Peretz, and her husband, David Schisgall. “We had had some upheaval in our family where we’d come through a dark but sometimes comical period,” Peretz told FilmInk in 2011. “It got the two of us thinking about how intense, loving, and also harsh our own sibling relationships can be. There was also the idea that when you’re in your twenties, it’s all about your friends, and then you get to an age where you have a parent that gets sick or you start having kids. These things make you realise the importance of relationships with your brothers and sisters, even if they can be intensely negative at times. We realised that there was the emotional basis of a comedy there.”
As well as the quirky, honest script, the film benefits enormously from its stellar cast, playing out like a studio comedy laced with indie sensibilities. Peretz’ major trump card is the immensely likable Paul Rudd, and the film rests heavily on its lead’s charisma, which he delivers in spades. In a lesser actor’s hand, Ned could have easily become trite or one-dimensional, but Rudd turns in a rich and layered performance. The film sometimes renders Ned’s sisters as caricatures rather than real people, but the fine actresses each lend credibility to their parts.
Though occasionally sentimental, this is a rambunctiously enjoyable exploration of grown-up sibling relations punctuated by moments of insight. The laughs are also always underpinned by the genuine question of where a man as upbeat, idealistic, and trusting as Ned fits into this world. Is it he that needs to change? For those who answer the latter in the affirmative, perhaps that says more about ourselves, and the times that we live in, than it does about Ned. “There are a lot of comedies that hover above their characters and laugh at them as if they’re ridiculous,” Peretz told FilmInk. “I really like movies where you can feel that they love their characters even in all their flaws. That was definitely a guiding principle here.”