Our Idiot Brother is Frustratingly, Winningly Cute (Review)

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cute

I despise how precious this movie is. I hate that it’s so mannered that it might as well come with a sweater, and I loathe its fake-quirky conventionality. But most of all, I hate the feeling that it’s as engineered to fit the established tastes of white intellectuals and critics as Yogi Bear was to fit children and morons.

So when, like a girl scout, Our Idiot Brother arrives at my door in its quasi-fascistic outfit, selling sugary treats of no nutritional value to raise money for some dubious cause, I’m eager to boot it down the steps or yank it off its little pink bike by the pigtails. I am a thinking adult. I am not fooled by your dimpled fake smiles or shiny merit badges. But… what’s that you say? Your treats are made of Paul Rudd and his unconditional love for a golden retriever? Paul Rudd and a golden retriever? But… but… that’s… cheating! Paul Rudd is already a human golden retriever! COME BACK! I’LL TAKE A THOUSAND BOXES! A MILLION! EVERY BOX YOU HAVE! I DEMAND TO KNOW WHERE THE FACTORY IS!

90 minutes later I am comatose. Broke, bloated and covered in shame tears, but content. You have beaten me, Our Idiot Brother.  You have pandered to a demographic, and that demographic was me.

So yes, Our Idiot Brother, starring Paul Rudd as the titular brother lovably screwing up the lives of his three sisters played by Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, and Emily Mortimer, looks like it could’ve been financed by the Sundance selection committee. Rudd’s “Uncle Ned” is a stoner who works on an organic farm with his dog, Willie Nelson, until one day (*record scratch*), he gets thrown in jail for selling weed to a cop (BECAUSE HE’S SUCH A NICE GUY!). When he gets out, his hippie girlfriend (the brilliant and underrated Kathryn Hahn) has already replaced him and taken full custody of their dog. That’s when Rudd starts bouncing from house to house, from slutty bisexual Zoe and her girlfriend Rashida Jones, to career woman Banks, to married and miserable Mortimer, with her prickish, documentarian husband (Steve Coogan) and her adorable young son, who, wouldn’t you know it, turns out to be wiser and more mature than the adults.

And yet… I can’t resist. This might be the most perfectly cast movie I’ve ever seen. Rashida Jones is PERFECT as the lesbian lawyer sister in law and I’m not just saying that because the idea of her and Zooey getting it on excites me sexually. There’s even Adam Scott and TJ Miller in smaller roles with just enough room to shine. There’s such a perfect clarity here of what each character is doing and what they’re trying to communicate in each scene, it’s refreshing. Finally, an actually-funny comedy that doesn’t feel like an improv workshop.

In one expression or intonation, Our Idiot Brother absolutely nails jokes (and I mean actual laugh jokes, not smiles or “oh that’s cutes” like Win-Win) that Bridesmaids would’ve spent ten minutes of flailing trying to get to (Bridesmaids had its moments, but it feels sloppy and unedited compared to this). The characters here are “types”, to some extent, but the actors are always honest, in the moment, and beautifully unhammy. There’s one scene in which Paul Rudd is hitting on a girl in an elevator, and as she turns him down, all he does by way of response is give a look and a shrug as the elevator door closes. And it F*CKING KILLS. His one little look cuts to the core of his character, it’s hilarious, and the visual composition of the elevator door sliding shut as he does it is perfect. Paul Rudd was always cute, but also? Kind of a genius.

I can hardly blame Our Idiot Brother for its unfortunate parallels to that phony, ham-fisted Tyler Perry movie for white people, The Kids Are All Right, because despite the promiscuous bisexuals and stoners with organic farms, I highly doubt director Jesse Peretz and writers Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall had seen it before they started making this. Still, the fact that the trailer looked like a bad Little Miss Sundance rip-off can’t all be pinned on the marketing department. I was perhaps being harsh when I called it pandering, but there are things I wish about Our Idiot Brother. I wish Paul Rudd didn’t run down the street yelling “Willie Nelson!” at his dog. I wish there wasn’t the predictable checklist of upper-middle class caucasian unconventionality — hippieism, drugs, organic food, cults, ambiguous sexuality, and infidelity. I wish there wasn’t an earnest, wise, likable child (though the fact that he wanted to take martial arts against the wishes of his non-violent parents was a nice reversal of the usual Billy Elliot cliché — leading to a great Paul Rudd line, “He’s a boy. Boys fight. It doesn’t mean he’s gonna become some frat boy rapist.”). I wish there wasn’t an over-explained ending that rivals Joseph Gordon-Levitt meeting a girl named “Autumn” at the end of 500 Days of Summer for cutesyness.

But damn if I didn’t enjoy nearly every minute of it. Paul Rudd likable, who’d have thought.

Grade: B+