Monday, August 29, 2011

Brother's Keepers: OUR IDIOT BROTHER

Despite a title that sounds like a mean-spirited insult, Our Idiot Brother turns out to be one of the sweetest, kindest, warmest, and generous comedies of the year. It’s an R-rated movie that’s so big hearted it barely registers as raunchy, that loves its characters and wants to see them end up happy. It’s surprisingly fleet, nimbly shifting registers between straight-faced silliness and heartfelt emotion. By the time the film ended I was sad to see it go. Perhaps this summer’s mostly misfiring comedies wore me down, but this is exactly the kind of nice, refreshing, genuine entertainment I didn’t know I was yearning to see.

The film stars Paul Rudd as a man who has to be one of the nicest people on the planet. He has long hair, a casually messy wardrobe, and an easy smile. He treats everyone he meets in a similar way, speaking to them in a soft easygoing voice. He just loves life, aimless and simple as his is, but he keeps inadvertently making things difficult for those around him. He means well, but his complete refusal to go along with little white lies, his scrupulous honesty and his instinctual mellow kindness, unravels situations that are held together by nothing more than all the small untruths people tell themselves and each other. He’s lucky that his unconditional love for his family is (mostly) returned. Even when they are utterly exasperated, there’s real familiar warmth.

He bumbles through the lives of his sisters after he’s released from jail. Oh, he’s not a criminal of any terrible import. In the opening scene, he sells pot to a uniformed police officer just because the man seemed to be having a tough day. Upon his release, it’s this fact that causes his parole officer (Sterling Brown) to assume that he’s “retarded.” “I get that a lot,” Rudd says.

Since his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) dumped him and won’t even let him take Willie Nelson, their dog (major bummer), the newly free Rudd crashes at the house of his mom (Shirley Knight), but soon makes his way to each of his sisters’ New York houses in turn. There’s the high-strung sister (Emily Mortimer) with two kids and an inattentive husband (Steve Coogan), the ambitious professional journalist sister (Elizabeth Banks) with a casual relationship with her neighbor (Adam Scott), and the free-spirit lesbian sister (Zooey Deschanel) in a committed relationship with a lawyer (Rashida Jones). While there are differences between the siblings, and a fair number of conflicts, this is not simply a dysfunctional family. This may be a film that showed at Sundance, but it doesn’t betray the aggressive quirk for quirk’s sake, the ugly look-at-these-wacky-losers aftertaste that infects the worst of what is lumped into loosely defined “indie comedy” prejudices.

Director Jesse Peretz and writers Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall have crafted a rather loose and unhurried film that amiably ambles from enjoyable scene to enjoyable scene, funny in ways that provoke smiles more often than belly laughs. It’s remarkably unremarkable. The very lack of showiness – there’s no irritating insistence in its comedy – is its greatest virtue. This gives room for the characters to completely take over, dominating the central interest. The ensemble is uniformly excellent and their characters compelling. The relationships and conflicts between these characters are written in an ever so slightly over-the-top way that manages to stay relatable, if not entirely believable.

In this talented cast, Rudd stands out above them all. He’s such an appealing character. He may wear Crocs, lack ambitions, and be way too trusting, but he’s so very nice and, doggone it all, wouldn’t it be fun to hang out with him? It may be tiresome, it may be trying, but just like his sisters, I found that this is one social idiot just too lovable to dismiss. Likewise, the film is, in its own quiet way, utterly charming, sneakily effective and even a little bit moving.

No comments:

Post a Comment