By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated August 26, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
Credit: Nicole Rivelli
  • Movie

How beaming doofus Ned (Paul Rudd), the idiot in question in Our Idiot Brother, grew up to be such a mellow male in such a nutty family of females is a mystery of nature versus nurture, wrapped in a Rudd-y grin. Ned is a sunny, Jesus-haired, go-with-the-flow kind of dude who sticks to his word, tells it like he sees it, and finds the good in everyone. Ned’s three sisters, on the other hand, are tightly wound malcontents, each character fleshed out by a choice comedienne: Single lady Miranda (Elizabeth Banks, styled as a hard-edged brunette) is a ruthlessly ambitious magazine journalist. Liz (Emily Mortimer, luxuriating in hausfrowsiness) approaches married domesticity and motherhood with grim aspirational zeal reinforced by her pretentious snob of a husband (Steve Coogan, offering up some of his always-welcome echt Coogan smarm). And lesbian Natalie (indie-world sprite Zooey Deschanel) is a would-be stand-up comedian who feels compelled to cheat on her swell girlfriend (swell Rashida Jones), a lovely bruiser in Bermuda shorts. Mom (Shirley Knight), meanwhile, gets by befogged by copious glasses of white wine.

At the beginning of this bouncy, bighearted comedy of Capraesque life lessons, directed by Jesse Peretz (TV’s Important Things With Demetri Martin), happy hippie Ned is generous enough to sell a uniformed cop some weed. This act of moronic kindness lands the holy fool some jail time. When he’s sprung, he learns that his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn, hilarious as a pacifist feminist perpetually spoiling for a fight) has dumped him, kicked him off their organic farm, and claimed ownership of Ned’s beloved dog. (The dog, named Willie Nelson, is shamelessly milked for every awwww a four-legged costar can add to a human-based plot.)

Homeless, Ned begins an eventful round of crashing at each sister’s home, and chaos erupts in each household as his inconvenient honesty exposes the lies and pretensions with which each sibling has built her daily routines. The results are enlightening. Screenwriter Evgenia Peretz (she’s the sister of the director and co-wrote the sharp script with David Schisgall) is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. As it happens, fictional sister Miranda works at a version of VF, where she connives to write an incisive profile of a rich British chick named Lady Arabella (Janet Montgomery), while Ned gets Lady A chatting just by talking to her like a person. I do wish the movie’s ending weren’t so squishy. It’s been changed from the finale that Sundance audiences saw earlier this year and now reeks of focus-group testing — well, either that or a lack of confidence in the director’s comedy rhythms on the part of The Weinstein Company (which bought the movie in Park City for big money). What was once specific and sparkling is now more blandly glossy and sweet.

Our Idiot Brother looks like the set might have been the happiest place on earth for its participants, who also include Parks and Recreation‘s Adam Scott and improv comedian T.J. Miller (Cloverfield). Like, wow, dude, even Hugh Dancy pops by for a cameo as a self-serious artist, while the divine stage actor and TV regular Julie White (Law & Order: SVU) steals her scenes as a crackpot guru. As Ned would say — sincerely, beatifically, with no embarrassment that Woodstock is so 42 years ago: Far out. Right on. Peace. B+

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Our Idiot Brother

  • Movie
  • R
  • 96 minutes
  • Jesse Peretz