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Sundance Review: “My Idiot Brother”

“My Idiot Brother”
Courtesy of Big Beach Films

Paul Rudd’s clueless ex-con character leaves this dysfunctional-family comedy adrift.

A pileup of poor judgment that resolves miraculously in the end, My Idiot Brother shambles along with all the purposefulness of its title character, a kind of near-beer Lebowski who’s neither reckless enough to cheer for nor misguided enough to disdain.

Paul Rudd’s Ned Rochlin, recently released from jail and broke, wanders through his sisters’ homes, inadvertently revealing that each has as much to answer for as their brother, who sold dope to a policeman in uniform. Each episode yields laughs, but the parallel screw-ups don’t build to the crescendo the film needs; it might be no worse than Rudd’s previous vehicle, How Do You Know, but it’s yet another leading role that fails to live up to his talent.

The script doesn’t play to anyone’s strengths. Sisters played by Emily Mortimer, Zooey Deschanel and Elizabeth Banks are, respectively, de-sexed, dumbed-down and unbelievably self-centered; their ample flaws might have been humanized if it weren’t for the contempt they show their only brother.

The filmmakers aren’t so kind to Ned, either. Screenwriters Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall try  to rationalize his seemingly low-IQ behavior in one small bit of dialogue, but it hardly explains the clueless things Ned says and does.

Much is made of a dog named Willie Nelson, stolen from Ned by his ex-girlfriend. Willie is the only entity (aside from his alcoholic mom) who offers him the love he deserves, and the dog serves as the fulcrum of the movie’s ludicrous redemption sequence. More persuasive evidence of Ned’s soulfulness languishes on the sidelines: a friendship with his nephew that is derailed by an accident so dumb viewers might decide that this movie really doesn’t think much of its hero.

Premieres
Director: Jesse Peretz
Screenwriters: Evgenia Peretz, David Schisgall
Cast: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer
Producers: Anthony Bregman, Peter Saraf, Marc Turtletaub
No rating, 96 minutes