'Our Idiot Brother': Stupid Movie, Smart Casting

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Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, and the rest of the ensemble cast save this comedy from mediocrity

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The Weinstein Co.


Our Idiot Brother has a preposterous opening scene. It's a beautiful day at the farmer's market, and a long-haired, bearded, smiling man named Ned (Paul Rudd) is selling kale and strawberries when a uniformed police officer sidles up to his booth. The officer asks Ned if he knows where to find pot, and Ned demurs. "Even if I did, do you really think I'd tell you?" Ned asks, wisely. Maybe he's not an idiot after all?

But wait! The officer grimaces, looks Ned in the eye, and tells him he's had a hard week. Ned is filled with compassion. He hesitates for a beat or two, then hands the officer a bag of pot. Next thing we know Ned's in handcuffs, heading for prison. Idiot brother indeed.

But Ned's not the only implausible character in the film. Once he's out of jail, we meet his ex-girlfriend, who is dead-set on retaining custody of the dog they shared when they were a couple, despite the fact that she has no apparent affection for either the dog or Ned. We're then introduced to his three sisters, who all stretch the limits of believability in their own ways: Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) is a low-level magazine editor who somehow lives like an investment banker, with a roomy, roommate-free apartment in a hip Manhattan neighborhood, a closet full of designer clothes and heels, and enough cash in her wallet to hand her brother $300 on demand. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is a comically bad stand-up comic who's tempted to cheat on her long-term girlfriend after a particularly harrowing episode in a New Age sweat lodge. And unhappily married Liz (Emily Mortimer) is supposed to be a Long Island-raised yuppie, but her distinctively British speech patterns (Mortimer is no better at an American accent than Anne Hathaway is at a Yorkshire one) place her closer to London.

But as sloppily drawn as these characters are, Our Idiot Brother still manages to be a deeply enjoyable movie, thanks to its cast. Rudd is the primary reason the film works: His bright, open face and enthusiastic line deliveries make his portrayal of Ned endearing, not grating. He's so likable that by the end of the movie it starts to feel somewhat believable that he could have sold pot to the police officer—he does love people enough that he'd be willing to go to prison because he wanted to help someone who said he was having a bad week.

But Banks, Deschanel, and Mortimer also help save the film from mediocrity. They're all playing versions of characters we've seen them do before. Banks's hard-charging aspiring journalist echoes her role as brash conservative news anchor Avery Jessup on 30 Rock. Mortimer's willfully naive housewife hearkens back to the part she played in Match Point, where she also turned a blind eye to her husband's poor character. And Deschanel's flighty, charming heartbreaker reminds us of ... well, every character she's ever played.

This typecasting could have made the movie seem stale or derivative, but it doesn't; it makes the characters feel comfortingly familiar, something like family. Which is obviously a good thing for a story about the joys and challenges of adult sibling relationships.

The film ends as implausibly as it began, with each of the characters enjoying their own version of "happily ever after." With a lesser cast, all the film's unrealistic moments would amount to a frustrating, eye-roll-inspiring viewing experience. But the actors play their familiar parts well enough that we root for them, no matter how many idiotic moments the movie offers.

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Eleanor Barkhorn is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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