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Friday
Aug262011

Our Idiot Brother

Paul Rudd is an infinitely likable guy. Regardless of what one may think of his movies, I find it hard to believe anyone could look at him as anything other than goofy and lovable. But never has he been more lovable than he is in Our Idiot Brother. His character, Ned, is a shining example of how we should all act. He is unselfish, kind, trusting and he loves those around him. It’s these characteristics that apparently make him an idiot, but if he’s an idiot, sign me up.

From the minute the movie begins, Ned’s kindness is established as he gives a free bowl of strawberries to a little girl passing by his fruit stand. It’s his next act of kindness, however, that lands him jail. He gives weed to a uniformed cop who tricks him into trusting him. Some months later, he is released from jail and heads home, but not before saying his goodbyes to the prison guards (with whom he is now on a first name basis). When he returns, he finds his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), shacked up with a man named Billy (T.J. Miller). It’s enough to make any man lose his temper, but Ned is as polite as can be, especially to Billy. He only wants his dog, Willie Nelson.

Now that he’s out of a home, he is forced to move in with his three sisters, Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a journalist looking for her first big story, Liz (Emily Mortimer), a stay at home mom who is married to documentary filmmaker, Dylan (Steve Coogan), and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a struggling stand-up comic who is in a lesbian relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones). While none really want him to stay in their homes, they have no choice, so he jumps around at their whim. He lands a job, at Liz’s insistence, working with Dylan on his documentary. He is just happy to be helping and doesn’t think for a minute, despite all the clues, that Dylan may be having an affair with his documentary subject. When he walks in on them naked, he still doesn’t figure it out, buying Dylan’s lie that nudity can sometimes make the interviewee more comfortable.

As is evident, Ned has a naïve view of the world, similar to that of a child. He doesn’t see the infidelity happening in front of his eyes, or the news story in someone’s words, or the humiliation in rejection (after asking someone out and being shot down, he merely smiles and shrugs. “No big deal” he must have been thinking). He always sees the positive side of things and feels bad when he lets someone down. When he turns down a threesome involving another man, he actually apologizes, as if the fact that he is straight is somehow something for which to be sorry. When he counts his money on the subway and hands a wad of cash to the guy next to him to hold, the thought never crosses his mind that that person could rob him. It’s ignorance, sure, but it’s also bliss (as the old saying goes). Some believe that children don’t see evil and are born with an inherent trust in people. If that’s true, then Ned is just a big child.

He’s an intrinsically happy person, which makes a late movie breakdown all the more powerful. At this point in the film, he is being blamed for ruining Liz’s marriage, killing Miranda’s career and destroying Cindy’s love for Natalie. None of those things are his fault, but his sister’s keep telling them they are, which leads him to, for the first and only time, raise his voice. It’s enough to make them feel sorry for what they said and realize how much Ned loves and cares about them; they’ve never seem him act that way and neither have we. So while the resolution feels a bit rushed, it makes sense based on how Ned has acted up to that point.

In a way, Ned is too much of an exaggeration—being blamed simultaneously for such horrific things would break a real family apart—but that’s where his charm lies. He’s willing to forgive and forget, but for him it’s not a choice; he simply doesn’t know any other way. Life is wonderful to him, a belief not expressly stated, but obvious anyway. Why spend it holding grudges? Ned is a clueless individual and at times deserves the idiot moniker, but he loves unconditionally and exudes joy at every possible moment. As it turns out, some idiots can teach you a thing or two.

Our Idiot Brother receives 4/5