x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

In Cinemas: Our Idiot Brother is as dull as its subject

Paul Rudd's character produces many laugh-out-loud moments and, as the title suggests, this truly is his movie.

From left, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel in Our Idiot Brother, directed by Jesse Peretz. Courtesy the Weinstein Company
From left, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel in Our Idiot Brother, directed by Jesse Peretz. Courtesy the Weinstein Company

Director: Jesse Peretz
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel
***

Sporting a bushy beard and shoulder-length hair, the idiot brother of the title is Paul Rudd's big-hearted man-child, Ned. He's laid back, optimistic and almost incapable of nastiness, and this low-budget comedy seems to reflect these fine qualities. However, he's also a little slow-witted and his achievements add up to almost nothing of any consequence. Regrettably, the movie inherits these lesser traits, too.

In the story's opening minutes, Ned (a "biodynamic farmer") is arrested for selling marijuana to a policeman. Far from being a typical dope dealer, however (his energies are mostly spent growing rhubarb), he is the victim of a cruel sting by the lawman, whom he simply wishes to help. Released from prison early after being named "most cooperative inmate" four months in a row, he discovers that his former girlfriend at the farm has replaced him (somehow finding an even hairier, dumber guy). Not only has he nowhere to live, but his ex refuses to surrender his beloved golden retriever named Willie Nelson.

After meeting the idiot brother, we are then introduced to the family of high-achieving but dysfunctional New York sisters who call him their own. There's the headstrong but bitchy Vanity Fair journalist, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), who neglects her love life and ethics to get ahead in the business. Then there's the independent and promiscuous Brooklyn hipster, Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who we learn is incapable of committing to relationships. Finally, Ned's third sister, Liz (Emily Mortimer), is an overbearing mother who, with her husband (Steve Coogan), is desperate to protect her son from the "ills" of the modern world, which apparently include the 1963 comedy The Pink Panther.

With only a vague plan to earn some money and reclaim his dog, Ned is allowed to stay at his sisters' homes. At first, they're happy to have him around, but soon enough his liberated ways and directionless approach begin to vex the highly strung city dwellers. Worst of all for the women - each of whose love lives hangs by a thread - their brother is a blabbermouth. This is particularly dangerous because almost all who meet the warm and sensitive Ned instantly bare their souls to him, however much he struggles to know what should be kept secret.

Rudd's character produces many laugh-out-loud moments and, as the title suggests, this truly is his movie. But this is also part of the problem. With such a strong cast, one would expect some of the supporting actors occasionally to elicit a laugh (Coogan particularly), but they rarely do.

With a story that involves ambition, wealth and infidelity (not to mention a New York setting), Our Idiot Brother is reminiscent of Woody Allen's oeuvre. But where that veteran filmmaker would have fleshed out the supporting characters and introduced real dramatic tension, this film's director (Jesse Peretz) seems content simply to point and laugh at Rudd.

Any film that is so heavily driven by a single performance tends to live or die by it. As with the character of Ned, it's undeniable that something is missing from the mind of the movie, but it is just about adorable enough for you to forgive it.

artslife@thenational.ae