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Video Reviews

THIS REVIEW DEALS WITH GRAPHIC SEXUAL CONTENT AND IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Comedy
Cast
Paul Rudd as Ned; Elizabeth Banks as Miranda; Zooey Deschanel as Natalie; Emily Mortimer as Liz; Steve Coogan as Dylan; Adam Scott as Jeremy; Rashida Jones as Cindy; Kathryn Hahn as Janet; T.J. Miller as Billy; Matthew Mindler as River
Director
Jesse Peretz (The Ex)
Distributor
The Weinstein Company
In Theaters
August 26, 2011
On Video
November 29, 2011
Reviewer
Paul Asay
Our Idiot Brother

Our Idiot Brother

It's good to help a hurting man in need. It's not good to help the guy out by giving him a bag of marijuana. Particularly if he's a police officer. In uniform.

This is not a mistake most folks would make. Alas, Ned is not "most folks." This scruffy, smiling organic farmer always seems to be doing the wrong things for the right reasons. The incident above earned the whiskered one an extended stay in the clink. And while he may have learned a valuable lesson ("Just say no to selling drugs to uniformed law enforcement officials!"), his time behind bars did nothing to iron out Ned's pesky childlike "innocence." And it certainly didn't help him handle relationships with his three wildly divergent sisters.

Not that they have scads of bonding time available for their brother.

Liz is a granola homemaker, married to a rather snooty documentary filmmaker who spends much of his time (ahem) "interviewing" a Russian ballerina. Liz has two children—a baby who seems permanently stitched to her hip and River, a 7-year-old boy who yearns to take karate classes (a definite no-no in this stridently peace-loving family). Clearly, Liz has plenty on her plate.

Miranda would rather break into the cutthroat world of magazine journalism than break bread with her family. Working for Vanity Fair, she's just been given her first real assignment, talking with an heiress about some closet skeletons. The last thing she needs is for her newly unincarcerated sibling to mess everything up.

And then there's Natalie, a hippie bisexual who's found a rare bit of relational stability with another woman.

Oh, it's not that these sisters don't love or value or want to see their brother. They do. Really. See, you just never know when he might start saying the wrong things, or doing the wrong things, or even doing the right things at inconvenient times, or … well, you know. See, the thing about their brother is—

Well, didn't you read the title?

Positive Elements

Thing is, Ned's not an idiot. Not really. It's just that he lives his life as if everyone around him is as simple and well-meaning as he. He gives away strawberries to his produce customers. He counts his money on crowded subways—and when he drops something, he asks a stranger sitting next to him to hold his roll of dough while he rummages around on the floor. He trusts people, and he expects people will respond in kind. "If you put your trust in [people]," he explains, "they'll want to live up to it."

He's particularly trusting (if not especially trustworthy) with what other folks tell him. If, for instance, Miranda lets it slip that she could never date Jeremy—the cute, friendly guy downstairs—because he doesn't have health insurance, Ned might just spill the beans to Jeremy himself. And if Jeremy mentions that Miranda is beautiful but bossy, he'll relay that information too—not in a malicious, gossipy way, but as guilelessly as a child might. He's the conversational equivalent of an Uzi with a faulty safety: He's comforting to have around in wartime, but you never know when he might go off.

He's not uniformly free with his words, though. When an heiress divulges loads of juicy details to Ned during a private conversation—details that Ned, of course, lets slip while talking with Miranda—the fledgling reporter immediately puts them in her story. But when Ned hears what Miranda's planning to do, he puts his foot down. He refuses to allow those private confidences to go into print, even though his insistence damages his relationship with his sister.

Eventually, all Ned's sisters have their lives crumpled by Ned's peculiar brand of niceness. They hate him at first for the chaos he brings. But they come to realize that he never did much wrong, really. Had they themselves not been so duplicitous, everything would've gone a whole lot better.

Spiritual Content

Ned and Natalie participate in a New Age-like gathering, sitting in a sauna-like room and telling their innermost secrets.

Sexual Content

Ned tries to have a threesome with a girl and her apparently bisexual boyfriend. The girl, topless, straddles Ned as the naked man (we see him from the side) slides next to him and begins kissing him. Ned quickly calls off the encounter, but then feels bad about abandoning them, so he gives the guy a kiss on the cheek. "Dude," Jeremy tells him later, "just because you're straight doesn't mean you're homophobic."

Images of explicit foreplay involve Jeremy and a woman wearing little more than a bra. When Natalie models for a painter, we see a nude painting of her and watch as she buttons up her shirt. Ned also gets a job as a nude model; we see him from the side. Jeremy and Ned scope women, debating which ones might be suitable for Ned to date and/or sleep with.

Ned sees Dylan completely naked. (Dylan covers his privates with his hand when the camera is in front of him.) Tatiana hurriedly gets dressed since Ned has caught them in the act. Dylan later tries to explain that, in seriously revealing interviews, physical nudity accompanies emotional nakedness.

Natalie and her new girlfriend, Cindy, kiss and coo at each other at the dinner table, and it's said that they've moved in together. Natalie frets that cohabitation seems to always lead to "breaking up or getting married." And she cheats on Cindy with a guy, getting pregnant in the process.

Crude references to body parts and sexuality litter the script, encompassing such subjects as prostitution, promiscuous sex, affairs, incest and genital accoutrements. Rude comments are made about Cindy being a particularly manly woman.

Violent Content

Liz and Dylan loathe violence, and they force their son to take dance classes even as he longingly looks at the boys practicing karate in the same building. But Ned, while living with the family, encourages River to explore his violent side—watching old Pink Panther movies on Dylan's laptop (we see scenes with Inspector Clouseau and his manservant, Cato, attacking each other without warning) and encouraging play fighting.

The boy, during one of these sessions, injures his hand in a door. And while getting interviewed for entry into an elite private school, River tells the principal that one of his favorite things to do is practice fighting (much to the embarrassment of his parents), announcing that he and Ned have explored different fighting techniques on YouTube. Needless to say, Ned is summarily banished from the house. "Dylan and I aren't interested in those values, Ned," Liz says. But as he leaves, he tells Liz that little boys just like to fight sometimes. "It doesn't mean he's going to grow up to be a frat-boy rapist," he says.

A friend of Ned's confesses that a bad relationship turned violent. "I didn't want to stab him," she explains. "I just wanted to scare him."

Crude or Profane Language

Close to 50 f-words, including one uttered by River at Ned's request. There are also about 10 s-words and a whole bevy of other vulgarities, including "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑" and "douche." At least 20 misuses of God's name (including two meshed with "d‑‑n") pop up, as do a half-dozen or more abuses of Jesus' name.

Drug and Alcohol Content

After Ned gets thrown into jail for selling marijuana to the cop, his mistake is often referenced. He later finds himself back in prison for a night after admitting to his parole officer that he smoked a joint recently. Characters are shown drinking wine and champagne.

Other Negative Elements

We see Natalie take a pregnancy test as she sits on the toilet. (Explicit nudity is avoided, but nothing else.) Ned pretends to throw urine on his parole officer. He simulates public urination with a juice box—much to River's amusement.

Family members insult and badly treat one another. Miranda uses off-the-record information to try to get a story published. A custody fight over a dog turns ugly.

Conclusion

There's a good heart to this story, lost in a pile of crude humor and crass sexual asides. Ned, far from being an idiot, has some admirable qualities—not necessarily stuff that would look particularly good on a résumé, but stuff that makes him a loyal friend and, believe it or not, brother. And because Ned can seem so innocent, the film itself can feel (if not look) surprisingly warm and innocent itself. There's a glow here you won't find in, say, The Hangover Part II or Bad Teacher.

But a middlin' glow does not a worthy movie make. Even Ned's good intentions, in the end, aren't attached to anything resembling traditional morality, which seriously undercuts the theme and tone. Sure, Ned wants to do good—but what does that really mean for him? To adhere to some strict code of conduct? His sexual interactions make it clear that's not it. To live and let live? That's not really it either, as evidenced by the way he undercuts Liz and Dylan's authority. (Whether River should be allowed to play fight is another issue.) To tamp down the stress that so endlessly circles us? If so, the fact that he's overturned the lives of his entire family suggests that he's failing miserably at reaching that goal.

Who cares, though? Our Idiot Brother seems to be saying, as it merrily succumbs to its own idiotic content.

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