Paul Rudd rocks a biblical hairdo and a beatific grin in Jesse Peretz’s deft, big-hearted comedy My Idiot Brother. And the hippie-with-an-expired-sell-by-date look suits him well. A reigning prince of playing guys whose pleasant, clean-cut features mask pockmarks of nuttiness, Rudd stars as Ned, a go-with-the-flow guy who’s so ready to see the good in everyone — and/or such a doofus — that, just for instance, he generously sells pot to a cop in uniform. A short prison stint follows, after which, dumped by his girlfriend, Ned and his backpack are dependent on the kindness and guest bedding of his three sisters: The ruthlessly ambitious magazine-journalist one (Elizabeth Banks); the neurotic married-Mommy one (Emily Mortimer); and the sexually promiscuous lesbian one (Zooey Deschanel). Wherever Ned shows up, bearing gifts of trust and sunniness, chaos follows, as his honesty interferes with the routines of family members used to accommodating lies.
That’s a sophisticated and even pretty deep premise for a family comedy, and screenwriters Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall sharpen the contours further with the zingy wit of their script; the dialog is specifically rather than generically funny, filled with tiny moments that teeter on the border of exasperation and hilarity. As a result, the cool cast have a ball digging into their characters’ blind spots and shortcomings, none more gleefully than Rudd, who turns out to be a virtuoso when it comes to pothead pauses. Dudes, like whoa, I laughed and beamed. Now that The Weinstein Company has acquired My Idiot Brother, soon you’ll be able to do the same.
Just, whatever you do, don’t mention the word “acquisition” in front of Kevin Smith. The voluble filmmaker took the microphone after the world premiere of his new movie Red State and indulged in a grandiose, half-hour rant/stand-up act/PR campaign/fugue state about the economics of film distribution that left his audience almost as slack-jawed with huh? as we were during some of the most outrageous, most violent, and most dirty-mouth scenes in his defiantly DIY comic-book style anti-religion horror movie. Here, ta-da!, is Smith’s most up-to-date declaration of war against religious fundamentalists and government law enforcement and squares who might tire of hearing teenaged boys talk raunch and drop the F-bomb approximately 2 million times in the course of a 95-minute feature.
The real draw of Red State is unquestionably the bravura performance of Michael Parks — stalwart of Kill Bill and Twin Peaks — as a dangerously persuasive crackpot pastor who preaches fire and brimstone sermons in a sing-song-y, deep drawl, assailing the “abomination” of homosexuality. The fictional spiritual leader is not-so-secretly based on Westboro Baptist Church pastor Fred Phelps, leader of a minuscule Kansas congregation notorious for picketing funerals and carrying signs with heinous messages of gay hatred. And after first introducing three horny teenage characters whose planned night of fantasy nasty with a willing lady found via Internet search turns terribly wrong, the man who made Dogma gets down to his real church business: Establishing a crazy-ass congregation of warped believers under the sway of a religious monster, then going on a violent rampage of death and destruction. Melissa Leo does it up as one of her church’s truest believers. John Goodman similarly puts his all into his role as a Federal agent called in to handle the situation after the killing and mayhem has begun — at which point the filmmaker expands his list of the damned by slamming the entire local and federal law enforcement establishment.
Mostly, Smith digs the horror, the horror!, as guns blaze and bloody bodies explode in the name of God. Me, I spent any down time between frantic, exponentially exploitative shoot-outs contemplating the long and mysterious path by which the exciting director who made Clerks 17 years ago is now a successful middle-aged husband, father, and businessman who nevertheless describes himself on stage to his audience as a “fat, masturbating stoner” and makes movies pitched to others of his tribe.
More Sundance 2011:
Chaotic Q&A session follows debut of ‘My Idiot Brother’