DIRECTED BY JESSE PERETZ
STARRING: PAUL RUDD, EMILY MORTIMER, ELIZABETH BANKS, ZOOEY DESCHANEL, RASHIDA JONES, SHIRLEY KNIGHT, ADAM SCOTT, KATHRYN HANN, JANET MONTGOMERY, STERLING K. BROWN with T.J. MILLER, HUGH DANCY and STEVE COOGAN
I like Mr. Bean. Let me tell you that upfront. I don’t like what Rowan Atkinson does with him, mixing conceit, propagating not merely the impractical, but also the undesirable to an extent that it’s not funny anymore. Humour is when you approve of it. Mr. Bean irritates. Give him a situation with only one thing that you wish to the heavens that he wouldn’t do and he’d do it. Like Crystal memorabilia however safely lodged, and he’d find a way to break it. He’s the selfish brat that stirs little empathy except in gimmicky patches where one comes to learn how alone he is and how, in such chronic loneliness, one can fathom his retardation to sociopathic levels.
But I still like the idea of him. I mean the idea of a human being you can’t classify, who has nothing like a job description, who comes across the straightest of situations and finds a way to bend it that you can’t call him anything other than an ‘idiot,’ which you call him to the best of your exasperation. It’s actually a credit on his part, it’s something that you owe to him. The reasonability of such classification and the spirit with which he accepts it. He makes things a whole lot easier for you, now doesn’t he? Who else, even in fictional society, have we been able to place this conveniently and to the best of their acceptance as well? As easy as calling a Blonde a Blonde, if you see what I mean.
This unclassifiable nature of a man is what forms the crux of ‘Our Idiot Brother.’ It’s the kind of film that’s amicable in that it’s not supposed to be. We know how much Ned Rochlin (Paul Rudd) loves everyone who constitutes every moment of his life. “I like to think that if you can put your trust out there, if you can really give people the benefit of the doubt, see their best intentions, then they’ll want to live up to it,” he says. There isn’t a moment when we see him defying his own philosophy, that which stems from routine, more or less; from the fact that he doesn’t have one, more precisely.
Ned used to work at a vegetable farm with his girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hann), a hippie-parody as I see her. Ned himself is a week away from dreadlocks. But he’s better. He’s better than her, he’s better than the slowpoke (T.J. Miller) she replaces him with when he goes to jail. He’s the guy who hasn’t found company and is just making do with those available; even those who aren’t. “No one can love anyone unconditionally as Ned does!” his sister Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) screams at an outrageous Janet in the penultimate scene. In whom does a man like that find company? How does one love everyone beyond a level of reciprocation that’s virtually unattainable on the other person’s part? It’s certainly strenuous, but Ned is THE optimist. And he has hippies for friends. It’s almost a double-standard – a safe-play on part of writers Jesse and Evgenia Peretz. You want to give Ned some credit for real-world-applicability, sure. They do vouch for it. Or if you prefer to slap the hippie label on him, they do that too. In their defence, it’s a difficult stand. I get it.
What I liked and disliked about the film is the same thing – how much it situates its perspective in Ned’s sisters and how much it fails to do so. They are, obviously, the tellers of this tale. To us, Ned is the free-floating Samaritan whose only happiness is in keeping everyone else happy. To his sisters, he is an idiot, at least until he strikes a vein. “Why can’t I just sit around with my family and play a game of charades?” Ned asks. His sisters scoff at that question, even Elizabeth, the oldest who’s cast in the fragility and wisdom of Emily Mortimer. They are made to. And we, to the best of intentions, are made to hate them. Why else would one cast Elizabeth Banks who, in my opinion, was born annoying? It’s what comes easiest to her. Zooey Deschanel as the pansexual Natalie adds weird to the list of frigid and feeble, a heavy hand against Ned’s case.
The fact that a man who has this defeatist a sense of romance with his life comes with three sisters from different spectra of materialism is unexplained. Ned looks to be an older brother. Ebert, in his review of ‘Dan in Real Life,’ spoke about how Dan’s three daughters treat him like ‘a slow sort of brother.’ Well, Ned is exactly that. But then what is that which stops any of his sisters show even the slightest amount of attachment? Cindy (Natalie’s girlfriend as played by Rashida Jones), I thought, bonded better. ‘Lars and the Real Girl’ took care enough to explain to us how, in the film’s opinion, Lars Lindstrom (played by the exceptional Ryan Gosling) became socially retarded. How Gus Lindstrom, his brother, retaliates against his own guilt. ‘Our Idiot Brother’ doesn’t hint at such a back-story. This man is the kindest of souls amidst a flock of vultures. Period.
With that, I’ve come to the end of my review. Please note that I didn’t take this time to devalue ‘Our Idiot Brother’ for the heck of it. I watched it for the second time to write this review. There, I think, lies the problem. This isn’t the kind of film you watch again. A second watch would only point at ways not to believe in it. And that, in a way, is injustice to the stigma of likeability called Paul Rudd.