Lets face it, “Our Idiot Brother,” the new Park Slope based comedy about siblings written and directed by the well-heeled sibling offspring of the man that created “The New Republic”, which stars all sorts of actors well-heeled people love to see on the screen (Emily Mortimer, Paul Rudd, Steve Coogan, Adam Scott, Zooey Deschanel and Elizabeth Banks for starters), has equal likability and instant backlash potential. I mean, the film may as well be be called “White People Problems”. Blessedly, it is fully aware of everything it is, so much so that I, in fact, not only liked it BUT ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT. There, I said it (and what it says about me, I don’t want to know). And here’s why:
The story, which is a vehicle for state-of-urban-family commentary, is pretty basic: Ned, a lovable biodynamic farmer (made only lovable by the fact that he is played by Paul Rudd, mind you) lands in jail for what seems to me an obvious entrapment technicality. Upon leaving prison, he is ejected from his biodynamic farm by his now-ex girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn in fine passive-aggressive pacifist mode), who has a new (bigger and dimmer) boyfriend (TJ Miller, steadily making future stardom strides) and is keeping their dog, Willie Nelson.
With nowhere to go and genuinely heartbroken over the loss of his dog (not so much the girlfriend), Ned heads to the big, bad city of New York to couch surf with his family. His goals are simple and wholly attainable: to work odd jobs, save one thousand dollars, and rent a goat farm to call his own.
His sisters, each of whom occupies a perfect bubble of a specific New York stereotype, are there to help, but naturally, they have their own problems (that they’re expertly ignoring):
- Emily Mortimer’s Liz lives in Park Slope with a pretentious husband (Steve Coogan who has the misanthropic time of his life). They have two children, River and Echo, no TV or computers, and a-cupcake-a-week-per-kid rule. She is suffocating in the general stench of self righteous upper middle class Brooklyn.
- Elizabeth Banks’ Miranda is a power-hungry writer at “Vanity Fair” (Evgenia Peretz, who wrote the script with her brother/director Jesse, is a contributing editor at that same publication). She wears her bobs severe, is power-dating through the entirety of Manhattan, and is so devoted to upward mobility that she rejects the notion of true love, which is staring her in the face (Adam Scott plays her non-health-insured neighbor).
- Finally, (SHOCKER!) Zooey Deschanel’s Natalie is a lower East Side hipster, part time artist/model, part time stand-up, part-time lesbian and full time fuck-up. Her girlfriend, the only person with any pigment in her skin and genuine chutzpah in their bones in this ENTIRE movie, is played by Rashida Jones, as an adorable dandy/tomboy lawyer.
Ned’s arrival and inevitable usurping of their delicate life balance sets all sorts of actions and reactions in motion. The movie walks the thin line between a comedy of manners (during the more gentle family gatherings) and straight-up farce (pretty much whenever anyone leaves the safety of their home to eat, drink, attend cultish self-help sessions etc). While it is a slippery slope, the Peretz team behind the movie is obviously on home turf and they never lose their footing. Sure, this is slight, non-Academy Award winning business we’re talking about here, but that is not to say it is not tricky to execute (just think of all those TALKY, tedious “indie” comedies you had to sit through), and for that the Peretz family should be commended.
The movie clocks in at a neat hour and a half, for which I’m thankful because all this self-awareness and self-delusion may have become tiresome over a longer period of time. Yet you walk out smiling, sticking around for the closing credit bloopers and wanting to call your siblings almost ASAP.
Gentler than Noah Baumbach, less affected than Wes Anderson, with more heart than Nicole Holofcener, this is the surprisingly non-twee* yipster comedy of the year.
* Given the damning Deschanel presence