Ideally, a big part of being a family is being bonded together through unconditional love. Sometimes you may have different values, beliefs or personalities, but at the end of the day you all love each other. The limits of ‘unconditional’ are sometimes tested when one person continuously screws up and drags everyone down with them. ‘Our Idiot Brother’ demonstrates this.

Only a complete idiot would sell marijuana to a uniformed officer, right? In a scene that reeks of entrapment, that’s exactly what happens to Ned (Paul Rudd), a naive organic farmer (aren’t they all?) who quickly lands in jail. When he emerges, he has lost his girlfriend, his home at the farm, and worst of all, his beloved dog Willie Nelson to his bitter ex-girlfriend who has moved on.

With nowhere else to go, his sisters agree (some less reluctantly than others) to help. He stays with Liz (Emily Mortimer) first, though this creates tension with her husband Dylan (Steve Coogan). Their overly-structured son River (Matthew Mindler) loves having Uncle Ned around so he can actually have a normal childhood.

Circumstances being what they are, Ned ends up bouncing around his other sisters’ homes. Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) takes him in next, but he ends up cramping her emerging journalism career. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and her significant other Cindy (Rashida Jones) take him in, but their relationship gets complicated the second he arrives.

Will these women undo the damage that their brother unwittingly does? Will Ned find his niche? Will he be reunited with Willie Nelson?

The story plays it extremely close to the vest. So close to the vest that you’ll likely be able to pinpoint almost exactly how the narrative arc will unfold. Sure, minor details may surprise you here and there, but the structure is what you have seen a million times before. It’s inevitable that Ned will bounce around between the sisters and inadvertently ruin their relationships/careers. Though he has a carefree and optimistic, yet flaky personality, there is a good chance that these worldly ladies will all learn a little something along the way.

The familiar middle isn’t unforgivable at all. It’s still quite watchable despite itself. One of the hastiest endings in human history hurts a little bit. All three sisters had simultaneous epiphanies? Things are going to be wrapped up that quickly? Thankfully, some ambiguity and uncertainty is allowed to remain which is a saving grace. If the resolution would have been spelled out any more definitively, that would have been a travesty.

For Rudd, this role is a nice change of pace from his sarcastic (yet consistently funny) persona. Ned is one of the most benign creatures to grace an R-rated comedy in quite some time. Well, his intentions are benign, but loose lips sink ships, as they say. Many of the problems that he creates aren’t even directly his fault. Sometimes, fate conspires against him, sometimes his timing is terrible and sometimes he is just the scapegoat. The whole fun of the story is seeing him wind up in these assorted scenarios. He always sees the good in people and trusts humanity in general. Ned is an uncommon mix of idealism and idiocy.

Special features include: commentary, deleted/extended scenes and a making of featurette.

‘Our Idiot Brother’ is a funny movie, but it’s also a safe movie. It has a lot of fun tweaking self-righteous yuppies, hippies and the career-obsessed. Everyone is a little ridiculous in their own way and has room to grow. That’s a good life lesson.

Rated R                   90 minutes                 2011

This post was written by:

J.J. Ellis – When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!

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