I’ve liked Rudd in everything I’ve seen him in. He’s sometimes been the only good thing in otherwise dreadful movies, like How Do You Know and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The character played here, Ned Rockland, is similar to the stoner portrayed in the latter film, but instead of being a quirky minor role, he’s the center. There’s a risk in building a film around a character that, in amateur hands, could be a one-joke gag, but due to Rudd’s strengths as an actor he overcomes a mediocre script.
Rudd’s Ned is something of an anachronism, a latter-day hippie in the 21st century. He works on an organic farm, and in the opening minutes is busted after selling pot to a uniformed police officer. His naivete and gullibility are so endearing that one feels about him like a puppy–he’s also mistaken for “retarded” more than once, and is the first to agree, although isn’t really stupid, he just refuses to see the bad in anyone.
After serving jail time he finds that he’s been booted from his farm by his now ex-girlfriend Kathryn Hahn. She’s taken up with the equally clueless and good-hearted T.J. Miller. That doesn’t bother Rudd as much as that she is not letting him take his dog, Willie Nelson.
The rest of the film finds Rudd in an odyssey as he bounces from family member to family member. His mother (Shirley Knight) babies him, so he ends up with his eldest sister (Emily Mortimer), who is married to a pretentious shithead (Steve Coogan, underplaying expertly). After he negatively influences their son by showing him Inspector Clouseau movies, he’s off to sister number 2, a writer for Vanity Fair (Elizabeth Banks). Evgenia Peretz is a writer for that publication, so presumably she knows what it’s like there.
Rudd manages to screw up her career in an incident with an interview subject, and moves on to sister number 3, a lesbian stand-up comic (Zooey Deschanel, adorable but in an underwritten role), who is in a relationship with a lawyer (Rashida Jones). Again, Rudd screws things up while trying his best to be affable, and he’s on the outs with the whole family.
There a certain cliche about the wisdom of fools that runs through literature and film, and there’s nothing here that raises the bar on that particular idea. But the film is so good-natured and sweet that I couldn’t help but like it. Jesse Peretz (Evgenia’s brother, and presumably not an idiot) isn’t a magnificent director–the pace could have been a lot snappier–but he’s captured the right tone. What the Peretz’s seem to say is that the world needs more people like Rudd, even if he does do stupid things and wear Crocs in public.
My grade for Our Idiot Brother: B