Our Idiot Brother makes a crucial misstep of casting a smart guy as the titular dumb guy. Paul Rudd excels at conveying the frustrations of witty white-collar everymen in films like Knocked Up. For the new comedy Our Idiot Brother, however, Rudd grows out his hair, puts on Crocs and peppers his speech with "man" as Ned, an organic farmer in upstate New York. In the first scene, Ned gets busted for selling pot to a policeman. And not an undercover officer, either, but a beat cop in uniform.
When Ned gets time off for good behavior, he couch-surfs among his three sisters in Manhattan. Bossy Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) strives to boost her journalism career by writing a big story for Vanity Fair. Bisexual Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), who's some kind of comedian, frets at the thought of settling down with her girlfriend Cindy (Rashida Jones in big glasses and tomboy shirts). Overwhelmed Liz (Emily Mortimer) worries so much about her son's future success that she prevents him from having any fun in the present.
Despite his good vibes and guileless innocence, Ned stabilizes his sisters' lives and frequently betrays confidences by accident. At best, Our Idiot Brother contrasts the behavior of rural, whole-earth hippies and the brittle, self-absorbed intelligentsia of the big city. At one point Liz's husband (Steve Coogan), a documentary filmmaker, describes his expectations for their son's elementary school interview: "I want him to be enigmatic, erudite, wise, incandescent."
Unfortunately, director Jesse Peretz (former bass player of the Lemonheads turned filmmaker) gives the film the glossy sheen of a Hollywood rom-com, as opposed to a more pointedly insightful indie comedy like Please Give or Humpday. A subplot about Ned playing Cupid for Miranda and a snarky but helpful neighbor (Adam Scott) feels particularly contrived, although Scott's deadpan demeanor serves as kind of substitute for Rudd's usual work.
Approaching the film like it's his chance at playing a Jeff Lebowski, Rudd seems suspiciously well-groomed for such a scruffy, placid dude, and his eyes betray Rudd's effort at seeming at ease. Ned always seems focused, even when delivering befuddled dialogue. You seldom get the idea, as you would with one of Brad Pitt's dumdums, that Ned's a beat slow or a slave to his boyish impulses. Our Idiot Brother's cast comes across as too smart for the comedy's own good.