Paul Rudd is a talented actor who has recently become typecast as “The Cynical Straight Man”. He’s recently been seen throwing sarcastic comments next to a wacky friend in movies like Role Models, I Love You Man, and Dinner for Schmucks despite showcasing his versatility in movies like Anchorman and The Shape of Things. My Idiot Brother gives Rudd the chance to play the complete opposite of his unfortunate typecasting and the result is a warm, funny, and completely winning performance. Bolstered by a strong supporting cast, My Idiot Brother goes for broad laughs but with Rudd as the film’s heart, those laughs always feel earned.
Ned (Rudd) is a sweet guy but entirely too trusting. After going to jail for selling weed to a uniformed officer, Ned comes out looking for a place to live and, more importantly, the companionship of his trusty dog, Willie Nelson. Unfortunately, his former lover (Kathryn Hahn) is having none of it and Ned is forced to take up residence with his sisters Liz (Emily Mortimer), Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), and Nat (Zooey Deschanel) as he plots to get Willie Nelson back. However, each of his sisters is dealing with their own baggage. Liz’ marriage is in jeopardy, Miranda is on the cusp of having a breakthrough article for Vanity Fair, and Nat is beginning to feel estranged from her girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones). Ned’s involvement in their lives highlights the conflict simmering beneath the surface of his sisters’ lives, even though he’s not to blame for their problems.
The majority of My Idiot Brother follows a pattern: Ned Lives with Sister, Ned Unwittingly Discovers Problem in Sister’s Life, Ned Accidentally Brings Problem to Light, Sister Kicks Him Out to Live with Another Sister. However, the film never feels redundant because the the performances are terrific and director Jesse Peretz keeps flipping between the sisters’ plotlines so the pacing stays lively.
Rudd’s performance is worth the price of admission alone. Ned isn’t really an idiot as much as he’s far too trusting. As he explains to another character, he trusts people because he believes that if you treat people as you want them to be, they’ll live up to your expectations. Ned isn’t necessarily stupid or childish as much as he doesn’t possess an ounce of cynicism. Sadly, the film doesn’t real force Ned to grow and learn some caution, but he’s such a lovable character that his stasis doesn’t become a big problem.
Not only is Rudd terrific, but he’s got a wonderful supporting cast backing him up. Even though the film is only 95 minutes, every actor has the time and talent to establish their character. Other than Rudd, the standouts are Steve Coogan as Dylan, Liz’ snotty husband, and T.J. Miller as Billy, the incredibly friendly new boyfriend of Ned’s ex. Coogan and Miller are in only a handful of scenes, but they are brilliant. Coogan is so good at playing a douchebag but in a way that feels fresh, and Miller is so lovable that at the end of the film I wanted to see a sequel following the adventures of Ned and Billy.
My Idiot Brother is a light film and the broad comedy, while hilarious, won’t really stay with you. But in its relatively short run time, it’s plenty of fun and filled with great comic performances. It’s all held together by Rudd who proves once again that while he can be a reliable straight man, he’s got so much more to offer audiences.
For all of our coverage of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, click here. Also, here are links to all of my Sundance reviews so far: