On Our Idiot Brother

As 2011 came to a close, my movie buff husband Mike asked me about my favorite films of the year. We saw plenty of good, even great, ones in the past 12 months and more than a handful of duds, but there were a select few that certainly stood out from the rest. 50/50, Super 8, and Win Win were films that I look forward to revisiting again and again in the years to come. But it was Our Idiot Brother that easily snuck into my top 5 and was, in fact, my favorite comedy of the year.

So many of the blockbuster comedies that come out these days just don’t appeal to my strange sense of humor I guess. The Hangover and Bridesmaids, for instance, were movies that plenty of people I knew (and thought I shared similar tastes with) recommended, but I didn’t find them extremely memorable or hilariously entertaining. Some of the popular comedies these days are just too outrageous for my taste, but Our Idiot Brother was just right. There were definitely wacky situations and over-the-top characters, but these rather unrealistic elements crafted for laughs never felt forced to me, largely because of the sincerity and authenticity of the movie as a whole.

Our Idiot Brother stars Paul Rudd as Ned, the unconditionally loving hippie brother of Miranda, Natalie, and Liz. Ned’s sisters are portrayed by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer while Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, Kathryn Hahn, and T.J. Miller are also included in this winning cast.

Though Ned’s path in life is definitely unconventional, he is a sweet and endearing character who lives by a generous and loving set of ideals. After getting out of jail for selling marijuana to a police officer (a situation which is pretty indicative of his naive nature), Ned is forced to return to his mother’s house since his ex-girlfriend bars him from the organic farm where he lived, worked, and grew the pot that got him into trouble in the first place.

The only brother in a close family of four children, Ned tries to find support, as well as temporary housing and employment, from each of his sisters. Liz is married to a pretentious documentarian who forces his son to engage in an array of non-violent, multicultural hobbies in lieu of learning karate. Straight-laced Miranda is trying to move up in the world of journalism while Natalie lives with her long-term girlfriend and four other twenty-somethings while trying her hand at stand-up comedy. Each of the siblings have distinct personalities which are at odds with, if not mildly disdainful of, Ned’s happy-go-lucky nature and hippie sensibility. Ned’s reliance on his sisters proves burdensome and problematic for the girls in different ways. But to someone as unequivocally loyal as Ned, there is no question in his mind that he should be able to turn to his family in times of need.

The ensuing comedic drama is ultimately a heartwarming, grounded story despite Ned’s unbelievable idiocy, contrived for maximum humor and theatrics. Our Idiot Brother has all the requisite elements of a quality comedy without overdoing it. One-liners and short conversations provide humor as well as larger situations and plot features. But there are also lessons learned, messages about family, human nature, and kindness. And despite its rather small budget, this film is satisfying enough to please mainstream and more unconventional audiences alike. Paul Rudd is a pretty endearing guy in any role, but I’d say that his portrayal of Ned in Our Idiot Brother is one of his most delightful and winning characters.

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