Our Idiot Brother, plainly put, was a delight to watch. In so many comedies, films in general, emphasis is placed upon the lowest common denominator to generate laughter. I’m talking about those films where the character seems like a half-developed mess, an afterthought of plot.
I’m also discussing those that use characterization as a convenience, in order to push the story forward. While this last point isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, it can, and often does, lead to underdeveloped shells, instead of well defined, living characters.
Things are much different in Our Idiot Brother. The main character, Ned, played remarkably by Paul Rudd, is a unique breed of idealized humanity. He believes in giving another person the benefit of the doubt. He is genuine when he says that he trusts everyone, as why should they lie. He’s honest, at times to a fault, extremely loyal to family and friend and will also sacrifice his own needs and wants in order to help someone with whatever their issue might be.
All the action stems off and moves through this central character. While there are certainly humorous moments, they’re mostly due to the audience, watching someone act in a completely different context than they’re use to, different than what society has brought us up to expect, or to go a bit deeper, that which society implies as being correct or incorrect manners of living.
Without getting in too deeply, as I really don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment, there are a few things I’d like to discuss.
The first idea is relative to an almost Zen-like state of being. Ned is perfectly accepting and open, to all experience, and in as such, reacts in a loving and open manner, even when personal wants are refuted, beyond reasons he cares to understand.
Ned is consistent throughout the film. He carries an innocence that allows his mind to freely flow throughout each of his experiences, even the negative and painful ones.
While society doesn’t view his behavior as normal, even cited as having characteristics oft associated with the mentally handicapped, it’s his unwavering of belief and rationalization that make the two the perfect contrast for each other. You may say he’s naïve, but he will simply recall his belief on the trustworthiness of others and how he sees the good in others, choosing not to see whatever ill that may be.
He’s a misunderstood yet incredibly fresh character, built in the mold of those living a commune styled existence and of those who take part in a system where experience and freedom, of ideals and passion, is much more valuable than monetary or worldly gains. It can also be said that Ned truly lives life to love every moment, completely unconcerned as to how others may perceive him to be.
The other point I’d like to bring up revolves around the idea of messiness. The story builds Ned up, stringently, using our own preconceptions and biases, to appear as this messy vagabond, living off other people, having limited aptitude for common sense and adhering little to the laws of responsibility. Despite being a genuinely likeable guy, our preconceptions deceive us, into buying into the premise set forth, that Ned is a mess and a disaster, someone that needs constant supervision, else he’ll mess everything up around him.
The story then develops numerous scenarios showing this “irresponsibility” and “messiness” at work. Whether involved with communication mishaps, treating children as equals, or valuating ethics above advancement, Ned is shown to cause problems wherever he goes, and for whomever he comes in contact with.
Yet, at closer look, while Ned’s actions do seem to prompt problems forward, they aren’t of his doing. Ned’s actions merely bring underlying or ignored issues to the surface. He doesn’t blatantly reveal secrets or raise awareness to potential problems. He simply trusts people and believes them to be worthy of his trust, especially seeing many of these people are members of his own family. But through the course of intersection, all these little problems and larger ones surface and then resolve themselves.
At first, each blames Ned for his or her faults and circumstances. They don’t want to see what is clearly evidenced, and through this, it becomes evident that Ned’s not the one that’s lost touch with reality. In this case it’s actually everyone else that either lives in make-believe or closes their eyes to that which exists in their lives. Ned’s a means to an end, a mechanism towards clarity, resolution and peace within oneself and within their relationships with others.
After they realize what the true story actually is, you can see each of these other characters begin to shift and change. It’s through Ned’s “interference” that they are able to grow, becoming more whole in the process. It’s refreshing to see something other than retread and rehash. It’s fun to see something contrary to the normal character arced films, where the lead character is often the one that must do things differently, must change in some way or another, as the story moves from beginning to end. Here we get the opposite, the lead stays the same, while impacting each of the other character’s lives around him, in, for the most part, an extremely positive fashion, instilling change and motivation for living their lives differently.
This is a feel good film that is billed as a comedy. Yet for me, the brilliance in Our Idiot Brother is not the humor, which is definitely there, but the philosophy and alternative viewpoints on ways to live one’s life, opening up ones’ eyes and offering many suggestions and/or possibilities that may be of use to all of us.
The writers did a wonderful job in building a truly character driven screenplay, where each of the characters are clearly defined, emoting a resonance within the audience. If others out there are like I am, they’ll leave this film, not only upbeat, but also as if they know, or have met, people like each of these characters, even the character of Ned.
The film also stars Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Rashida Jones, Steve Coogan and Adam Scott, to which credit must be given. Each of these actors is able to perfectly fill their individual roles, the way they were scripted, none too large of ego, to try and outshine any of the others.
In closing I’d like to say, this may not be a film you had previously considered seeing, but is certainly one I feel you won’t regret if you do.