Movies: Our Idiot Brother, Circumstance, Higher Ground

 Paul Rudd overstays his welcome in "Our Idiot Brother"

...would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

If Willie Nelson had ever done a cover of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?" a simple name change to "Ned" would provide the perfect theme song for OUR IDIOT BROTHER. Like Maria, who just wasn't an asset to that abbey, sweet stoner Ned (Paul Rudd) has good intentions but is always in trouble; he's a headache, a flibbertijibbet, a clown. At the beginning of Our Idiot Brother we learn that Ned is both gentle enough and dumb enough to take pity on a sad uniformed cop and sell him some weed. See Ned go to prison.

Ned is lamb enough to not put up a fight when his lion-maned hippie girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) boots him off of their farm. His short prison stint was time enough for her to replace him with another manchild boyfriend (their similarity pays off in a fun sideways ways later on). Ned can deal with being homeless and jobless but is heartbroken about losing custody of his beloved dog "Willie Nelson". When he returns to his family in New York and begins couch-hopping, his only goal in life is to earn enough money to get Willie Nelson back.


Ned's sisters are played by the wonderful comic actresses Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel but they're unfortunately allowed only a dimension or two to play: Mortimer is the harried control-freak housewife who turns a blind eye to her husband's (Steve Coogan) questionable behavior, Banks is a type A bitch and scruple free journalist who uses her next door neighbor (Adam Scott) carelessly, and Deschanel is a flighty comedienne who can't quite commit to her girlfriend (Rashida Jones) and takes up with an artist (Hugh Dancy) who paints nude models. Guess who needs the money?



The sisters are basically the film's chorus with their idiot brother as star soloist. Ned's guileless actions and constant truth-telling get him into numerous awkward situations but wreak utter havoc with the personal and romantic lives of virtually everyone around him.

You can practically hear his exasperated sisters curse/singing:

He'd outpester any pest
Drive a hornet from its nest
He could throw a whirling dervish out of whirl
He is gentle! He is wild!
He's a riddle! He's a child!
He's a headache! He's an angel!
He's a girl!

It comes out less musical than that and more whiny… "Our idiot brother ruined my life!" (The irony of the sisters protestations is that he's good for them.)

Where is this Sound of Music analogy going? It's getting away from me it is though it springs from a real place!  The 40 Year Old Virgin, another Paul Rudd movie that revolved around an improbably innocent middle-aged man, achieved perfect lift-off with a goofy surreal rendition of "Age of Aquarius" from another 60s musical. Our Idiot Brother has no such song and dance. Ned's headspace may be cloudy but the movie remains frustratingly earth-bound. It has its solid share of funny bits, thanks largely to the talented cast, but very few riotous laugh lines. One keeps wishing Our Idiot Brother would find a nice grassy mountain top from which to spin itself into a comic frenzy and take off soaring; the movie hums along pleasantly but never truly sings.

Cirumstance-heads ALSO OPENING: Oscar nominated Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air), directs and stars in HIGHER GROUND, a compelling look at a Christian woman's struggle with her faith. Broadway fans take note that she's filled her cast with award winning stage veterans including: the sensational Dagmara Dominczyk (who happens to be Mrs. Patrick Wilson in real life, lucky girl) as her sensually-minded best friend, Donna Murphy as her mother, and Norbert Leo Butz and Bill Irwin as preachers.

This week's To See List for gay moviegoers should include CIRCUMSTANCE, the acclaimed Iranian film about two teenage girls whose love affair is a dangerous thing in Tehran. Here in the States we often get such a distorted picture of the breadth of life experiences in the Middle East. Circumstance joins a welcome list of controversial films that train their eyes on contemporary Iranian life and gender politics (some with gay content as well since sexism and homophobia are such kindred prejudices). If you like Circumstance, I'd recommend seeking out these films if you can find them: The Circle (2000), Dog Sweat (2010) and the animated Oscar nominee Persepolis (2007). They're eye-opening.

And still more options as summer movie season wraps up: Zoe Saldana seeks sweet revenge (and bankability) in the action drama COLOMBIANA, and producer Guillermo Del Toro (of Pan's Labyrinth fame) offers up the new horror film DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK.