Paul Rudd has made a nice career playing the charming, well-meaning doofus, the likeable guy who's bound to make a terrible error or two. Think of his roles in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Anchorman, or even some of the recent leads he's had, like in Dinner for Schmucks and I Love You, Man. You always like his character, but you can't help but feel that Rudd the actor is considerably smarter than the role he's playing.
That's certainly the case in Jesse Peretz's new film, Our Idiot Brother, which was written for Rudd. He plays Ned, the family moron who manages to wreck the already-screwed-up lives of his many sisters just by being his amiable self.
Ned is a kindly organic farmer with a positive outlook, a generous heart and unshakeable trust in his fellow man. This is why, in the film's early moments, he gets sent to jail for selling pot to a uniformed cop. No, Ned's not the sharpest tool in the shed, and when he gets out, he finds that his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has taken up with another guy. Ned has nowhere to go, and, worst of all, she's decided to hang on to his dog, Willie Nelson.
He ends up couch surfing in the homes of his three sisters, aspiring journalist Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), lesbian comedian Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and unsexy housewife Liz (Emily Mortimer), all of whom live in New York City, a place that quickly tramples on Ned's laidback demeanor before picking it up, dusting it off and punching it in the face.
(That's a dreamy cast, right? Totally. And you can toss Steve Coogan, Rashida Jones and Adam Scott into the mix, playing the three sisters' love interests.)
None of these women has a perfect life, and it shouldn't take a total idiot to point out why. See, it's only a matter of time before Ned says the wrong thing to the wrong person, because he has no filter and thinks the best of everyone. Though his intentions are good, his actions ruin lives, relationships and careers, and soon his entire family can't stand him. The rub, of course, is what we know that they don't: All of this is their own doing, a product of inse curity, self-absorption, dishonesty or a simple lapse in ethics.
Will Ned's family see this for themselves and help their idiot brother reunite with Willie Nelson? Duh.Our Idiot Brother—opening Friday, Aug. 26—has become something of a critic's darling, and it's easy to see why. It's sweet, charming and funny, much like Little Miss Sunshine. Despite Ned's general befuddlement, Rudd is able to infuse the character with an admirable sense of kindness and the general idea that if you trust others, good things can happen. You really do like the guy, despite his obvious inadequacies, and, sure, we could all use a little of his kindness-towards-others attitude.
That said, a cynic might conclude that Ned's sisters are dumber than he is. The film's Achilles heel is this: If these sophisticated women grew up with Ned, they'd know better than to confide in him, because if you tell Ned anything that could bite you in the ass, you will get bitten.
But that's not the tale that Peretz is telling. Movies, after all, are about suspending disbelief, and if you're willing and able to believe that Ned's the dumb one, then welcome to the family.