Everybody loves an idiot, especially the enlightened kind, whose bumbling actions and presumed innocence at surface level help to dislodge pretensions, give reality checks, and generally stir up trouble with the non-idiot set around them. So it goes in Our Idiot Brother, an unexpectedly subtle and goofy summer comedy (or anti-summer comedy) all about the particular airy charms of comedian Paul Rudd. Forget the smug, Hollywood-shiny idiocy of Adam Sandler: Rudd is one of America’s finest, aloof yet alert comic heroes, turning ingenuousness and fumbling behavior into the stuff of … well, if not art, then its jester cousin, the comedic arts.
In a film almost too well suited to his powers, concocted by director Jesse Peretz and writers David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz, Rudd plays a more-or-less happily rudderless (sorry), kind-hearted and light-headed and hirsute post-hippie character. It’s no great spoiler-alert sin to reveal that, in scene one, with his beloved dog Willie Nelson by his side, our anti-hero slips up at a farmers’ market purchase. It’s not wise to sell weed to a uniformed police officer, regardless of the circumstances. That act sets into motion a plot involving his life adrift in Long Island, N.Y.C., and elsewhere, post-jail time. He flits between his mother and socially and sexually varied sisters, systematically screwing up their lives. Or is he readjusting them, applying honesty lotion to bring about new awareness?
Beyond the matters of narrative and acting savvy (it’s a wonderful ensemble effort, especially Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, and Emily Mortimer, who play the three sisters), Our Idiot Brother wins points of love and late-summer admiration for the very fact that it doesn’t go that extra, lame effort for easy laughs or implied rim-shot moments. We can relax into the artful, sometimes improvisatory-feeling spirit of the piece, with its occasional erupting humor moments and more general attention paid to details of oddball characterization, celebrating the lives of oddballs and blissful idiots by any other name.