A wannabe-feel-good comedy that turns out to be as cruel as its title, “Our Idiot Brother” tells the story of the world’s nicest man-child screw-up and the redemptive havoc he wreaks on his three horribly self-absorbed sisters. Pic needs every ounce of goodwill it can wring from Rudd’s likable lead performance to offset a sour, borderline misogynistic streak for which scattered snickers offer only modest compensation. Cast names should prop up returns for a slick effort that straddles indie and mainstream sensibilities but fails to muster the big laughs and bigger heart that could’ve made it a crossover hit.
A bearded, long-haired slacker so gullible that he gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, New Yorker Ned Rochlin (Rudd) makes the colossally foolish mistake of selling marijuana to a uniformed cop. Released from prison shortly after the opening credits, Ned finds he’s been dumped by his organic-farmer g.f., Janet (Kathryn Hahn, recently seen with Rudd in “How Do You Know”), who has moved on and taken custody of his dog.
Homeless, jobless and clueless, Ned seeks shelter and assistance from each of his three sisters, all of whom look down on this underachieving black sheep. First he stays with Liz (Emily Mortimer), a mother of two who’s unaware that her filmmaker husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan), is cheating on her with one of his documentary subjects. When that living arrangement doesn’t work out, Ned crashes with Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a Vanity Fair writer willing to sell her soul for a salacious cover story. Finally, he hits up Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who’s not quite ready to commit to lesbian partner Cindy (Rashida Jones).
Ned keeps moving, of course, because he drives each of his sisters crazy. As played by Rudd, finding every comic grace note in the character’s often maddening stupidity, Ned is so friendly, carefree and lacking in guile that he naturally invites others to share their secrets with him; unfortunately, he also has a habit of innocently dropping those secrets in casual conversation, with disastrous results. Yet the crux of Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall’s screenplay is that Ned, for all his screw-ups, is the one person onscreen who understands what’s really important in life — love and laughter, family and friends — and therefore the one person capable of indirectly showing his shrill sisters how hollow, miserable and unfulfilled they are.
In short, with the exception of Ned’s kindly mother (Shirley Knight), whose sole vice seems to be a slight alcohol dependency, to be a woman in “My Idiot Brother” is to be a heartless hippie, a weak-willed spouse, a bitchy careerist or a callous nymphomaniac. (Admittedly, men don’t have much more attractive options, judging by Ned and the supporting roles played by Adam Scott, Hugh Dancy and T.J. Miller.)
Any attempt on the part of helmer Jesse Peretz (who previously directed Rudd in 2001’s “The Chateau”) to present complicated, messy lives onscreen is canceled out by the script’s alternately soapy and sitcomish formulations, all of which are tidied up with a veritable montage of canned happy endings. Mortimer, Banks and Deschanel, appealing actresses all, are ill-served by a script that at one point has the audience all but clamoring for their blood.
Tech credits are topnotch, notably Yaron Orbach’s polished lensing of various Gotham locales.
Pic bowed at Sundance under the title “My Idiot Brother,” since changed by the Weinstein Co., which acquired distrib rights.