Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Our Idiot Brother (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Our Idiot Brother

When I first saw the trailer of the comedy "Our Idiot Brother", by Jesse Peretz, I jumped. Here was a film in the tradition of "Please Give" with just the right balance of spoof and sensibility, poking hysterical  fun at New Age and pointing the way.
How I wish that this was true. 
The film stars Paul Rudd as Ned, a well meaning  hippie type in a self absorbed, nit-picking family who try to be thoughtful and earnest but just end up chattering and being annoying. 
Ned is no idiot. He is an open, compassionate vegetable farmer. His only Achilles tendon it seems, is being a bit too naive. Ned says things like "Hey man!" "Sweet!" and "Right on". When he smiles, the buoyant positivity  can be seen rippling through his whole body.  It isn't that Ned is left behind, but only that he is too organic for this world somehow.
Everyone around him patronizes him and treats him condescendingly through most of the movie. 
The best part of the film is the transformation of Rudd himself, from his usual clean cut straight roles into this bearded and spacey drifter.  Even Rudd's eyes are different. The effect is jolting and you hardly recognize him. Rudd inhabits Ned and moves with different muscles. Rudd does his best in the  limited confines of a farcical story which is "what should we do with our 'out of it' brother?" Once the initial premise is established, there is not much for Rudd (or Ned) to do. He becomes sidelined by his abrasive,  yammering family: the dominant Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) Natalie  (Zoey Deschanel) and her lover Cindy (Rashida Jones). 
The quirky and  usually entertaining Steve Coogan plays a part as well, but for most of the movie his face is expressionless. He hangs around like a wet noodle. 
Ned is the only sweet-tempered likable dude. And perhaps this is the film's  point in a world filled with fetishistic technology, our Twitter feeds and iPhones?  I only wish his role had more range. When Ned talks about smoking pot, when he asks a stranger to hold his money, or when he wants to stay in jail, the film stalls into a rerun of a Cheech & Chong routine. It's a pity, because Ned was written for better films. When you see him rhapsodize to his parole officer, dance, kiss his dog on the mouth or spill the honest truth to his sister, you see a genuine character here, not a cardboard cutout of a 'Mr. Natural' that the film ultimately forces Rudd to mimic.  Seriously, Jesse-man? Seriously? Wow man. Wow.
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