OUR IDIOT BROTHER, profane title notwithstanding, is a liltingly transcendent comedy. The humor, character-driven and smart, is pointed, but delivered compassionately. And this is perfectly in keeping with the esoteric underpinnings at play here.
The eponymous character, Ned (Paul Rudd), is not so much the hero of the piece as the Holy Fool, a hippie in crocs walking in delighted harmony with the universe. He lives fully and delightedly in each moment, expecting the best from people and from life, and unable to become bitter even when people and life let him down. His is an unconditional love for all, even when it lands him in prison for selling drugs to a cop. A cop who was in uniform at the time. It makes sense in context, so altruistic were his motives, his intentions, but to his three sisters who are living the inauthentic lives that have put them on the fast track to quiet desperation, it is typical of their idiot sibling. Released early from prison for good behavior, and after being voted most agreeable inmate four months in a row, and then tossed off his biodynamic farm by an emotionally constipated passive-aggressive girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn), Ned is passed from sister to sister who want to help, but cant get past themselves to do so. Unfettered by cynicism, suspicion, or any sense of subterfuge, Ned becomes a mirror, and they are each forced to see their lives through his eyes. Its a sight makes them each more or less woozy, depending on how far from their bliss they have wandered, and for which wooziness they blame Ned, not themselves.
Ned, it is made clear both in the sharp writing and in Rudds sweet manchild of a performance, is not stupid. He has a different way of looking a the world that works for him at least as well, and often better, than how other people choose to approach life. He is innocent, he is open, unmoved to or by material gain or social status, and he has the skill to love unconditionally and without judging to the point of being unable to comprehend evil intentions in those around him. Hence he can surprise his brother-in-law (Steve Coogan) and his lithe and toothsome ballerina of a documentary subject, each in the buff, and it is not stretch on the audiences part for Ned to see only a filmmaker at work, and neither is it a stretch to see only admiration for craft rather than smirking needling when he tells someone about it. He is the embodiment of honi soit qui mal y pense. Rudd has never been more charming, nor given a more skillful performance, keeping Ned a fully realized character and one with a effervescent twinkle in his eye. He heads an ensemble of crack actors, each with a gift for finding pathos in comedy, and the absurd in the tragic, starting with Shirley Knight as Neds equally compassionate, equally idiot mother, and working through Elizabeth Banks as the sister desperately trying to sell out to make good at the magazine where she toils while missing the cues from the neighbor (Adam Scott) who is willing to literally drop anything to do her household chores; Zooey Deschanel as the pan-sexual sister with truth issues that involve both her girlfriend (Rashida Jones) and the artist (Hugh Dancy) for whom she both poses and poses a problem; and Emily Mortimer, as the earth mother who lost track of what makes her happy and why she wanted to be married to a smug and profoundly disinterested husband (Steve Coogan). The stories intertwine nicely, with a textural meatiness that is balanced with cinematic economy.
There is something about Ned that can easily not only make the viewer want to be a better person, but to see the world through Neds eyes, populated with the fine human beings Ned assumes populate it. Seeing OUR IDIOT BROTHER is to be made as buoyantly delighted, and, with luck, a little bit of an idiot.