OUR IDIOT BROTHERWatch It At Home:  Sitcom On A Big Screen
Although it premiered at Sundance, OUR IDIOT BROTHER was an “independent film” only in a technical sense:  it was produced on a relatively low budget and didn’t have US distribution in place.  (Harvey Weinstein picked it up at the Festival.)  Its sensibility is firmly mainstream, and certainly its cast–Paul Rudd, Zooey Deschanel, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones–could have and frequently do star in major studio productions.  It’s easily the mildest and friendliest of the summer’s R-rated comedies.  (If you’re in NY or LA and want to see a true independent film this weekend, seek out Vera Farmiga’s remarkable directing debut Higher Ground, which will be opening in very limited release.)

In a different era, you’d call Ned (Rudd), the hero of Brother, a holy idiot.  These days, he’s a stoner.  Ned lives with his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) and his dog Willie Nelson in upstate NY, farming organically and selling a little weed.  As you know from the TV spots, Ned is such a nice guy that when a local cop (in uniform) says he’s having a tough week and could use a few joints, Ned sells them to him–and goes to jail.  Once free, he’s turned away by his girlfriend (that’s OK, but she also keeps his dog), and Ned’s family has no choice but to reluctantly take him in.
Ned’s sisters are schematically as Type A and cynical as Ned is dozy and trusting.  Miranda (Banks) is a junior Vanity Fair writer who’s so busy scheming to get ahead that she doesn’t notice the love interest (Adam Scott) under her nose; Liz (Emily Mortimer) is obsessed with keeping her children letter-perfect and blind to the blatant affair her documentarian husband (Steve Coogan) is having; Natalie (Deschanel) acts self-destructively instead of committing to her true love (Rashida Jones).  The women pass Ned from one to the next, which conveniently allows him to cheerfully and negligently mess up all their lives, mostly just by being himself–but of course when he’s done, they all wind up happier and more fulfilled than they’d been before.
There’s never much doubt where Our Idiot Brother is going, but getting there is a loose, enjoyable ride.  (In Sundance, the movie had an oddly curt last minute that didn’t quite send people out with the smiles they were led to expect, and Harvey Weinstein has remedied that.)  The movie has a genuinely sweet sensibility (the film itself is a family affair, directed by Jesse Peretz and well-written by his own sister Evgenia Peretz and her husband David Schisgall), and even the most obnoxious character–that would probably be Coogan’s–is allowed to score some laughs.  Everyone in the cast is great company; no one particularly stretches or showcases new skills, but they interact with assurance and what seems to be great affection for one another.  As director, Peretz makes a solid recovery from The Ex, which could never reconcile its sitcom tone with a plot that needed to be darker.  Here Peretz commits completely to positivity, and the result is buoyant.
Our Idiot Brother is by far the most pleasant movie of the weekend, and sight unseen, one is willing to wager that it’s a better time than the low-rent action movie (Colombiana) and horror thriller (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) that are its wide-release competition.  On the other hand, would you feel awful if you waited a few months and got it from your Netflix queue?  A Ned-like amiable shrug is the appropriate response:  Whatever you feel, man.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."