Is there a modern word for “hippie”? If there isn’t yet, a good start might be “Ned”, after the title character in Our Idiot Brother – an organic (sorry, bio-dynamic) farmer who embraces the world, names his beloved dog “Willie Nelson”, and when frustrated can only muster enough violence to say stuff like “Geez, Louise!” Conservative people usually avoid Neds, but it’s almost impossible not to like this one, and you might very well say the same about the movie.
Ned (Paul Rudd) isn’t necessarily idiotic; he’s just too open and trusting for his own good. Granted, he does sell pot to a uniformed police officer in the opening scene, but it’s clear the cop manipulates Ned by taking advantage of his nature. Rudd plays these first bits so well that, even knowing the havoc he’s about to cause to the members of his family, it’s hard not to smile when you see him coming.
Released from jail, Ned is kicked out by his girlfriend (who keeps the dog), and ends up bouncing around between his three sisters. This is an incredibly close family for people so diverse: Liz (Emily Mortimer) is a mousy housewife who’s lost the attention of her documentary filmmaker husband (Steve Coogan), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a magazine writer trying to move up the ladder at Vanity Fair, and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a bisexual amateur stand-up comic with commitment issues. They all love Ned, but their efforts to help him inevitably bring about complications.
This is mostly because they are all lying to themselves in some way. The script, by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz, excels at showing us the counterpoints between these characters. As crazy and unfamiliar as Ned’s lifestyle seems, we begin to see that it’s the “normal” people who have the problems. As they each exploit Ned for their own reasons, the sisters’ lives are upended when his openness exposes their secrets. We know this is for the best, but we’re not sure how it will all work out.
It’s also great the way director Jesse Peretz plays with the notion of just who these people are. At a party, Ned attracts a young couple who want him to join them in the bedroom. You’d think he’d be cool with that, being a free love kind of guy, but he can’t go through with it. Then watching him agonize with guilt afterwards is very real and very funny.
The performances are all terrific – even minor characters that exist solely for comic relief or to move the plot forward manage to make an impact. The moment when Ned finally loses his temper drops like a bomb, and could be one of the most effectively played scenes in a movie this summer.
It won’t be for everyone, but Our Idiot Brother is a fantastic alternative to the loud, empty blockbusters we’ve had dropped on us recently. Just like Ned, it has a good heart, and who can say no to that?