Its ending reportedly tampered with since Sundance, the indie-scented dysfunctional-family comedy “Our Idiot Brother” winds up flattering its presumed-complacent middle-class audience, but not for any real reason; it’s not like there’s any medicine going down with this refined white sugar. To try and think what the Weinstein Company might have worried about is to find oneself quoting the movie’s own doofus parolee hero: “You know what? You know what? Wow.”
Known for his farmers’ market rhubarb and for expecting the best from people, Paul Rudd’s hairily Lebowskian quasi-hippie Ned gets sent away early on for selling weed to a uniformed cop. But the dim-bulb dude gets out quickly for good behavior, and after a mellow custody feud with fellow-farmer ex Kathryn Hahn over their golden retriever, named Willie Nelson, he winds up surfing his three sisters’ New York City couches.
It’s neither a surprise nor a disappointment to behold Rudd’s upstate rube rolling through this movie gallery of girly urbanites, including bi-curious commitment-phobic kook Zooey Deschanel, compromised journo-careerist Elizabeth Banks and resigned hausfrau Emily Mortimer. (Mom Shirley Knight, neatly tucked into nightgown and white wine, passive-aggressively presides over the lot of them.) The sisters have challenging significant others of sorts, respectively Rashida Jones, Adam Scott and Steve Coogan, and although the film makes a silly point of Ned’s contagious credulity — by which he becomes a hamper for his family’s dirty laundry, inevitably spilled — it’s more convincingly a matter of contagious hilarity, just a nice upbeat ensemble hangout. Suffice to say no illusions are shattered, nor even any dissonance created, by the cheerfully riffing end-credits outtakes.
In that way, “Our Idiot Brother” gets us laughing and also feeling wistful to realize that being in its audience is fine but can’t possibly be as fun as being with all those pretty funny people (and one dog) up on the screen, sharing their good time.
You could say it’s a vanity project, if vaguely. Director Jesse Peretz is, among other things, the brother of Vanity Fair contributing editor Evgenia Peretz, who wrote this script with her husband David Schisgall. And something is odd about the sight of Rudd running a faintly Capra-esque course of superficially healing chaos. His sweetness doesn’t seem disingenuous, exactly, but it does sometimes seem like a mask worn over a real talent for social savagery. He wants points for puncturing pretense, but the wanting itself might cost him a few.
This might have something to do with years spent stewing in supporting-playerdom. A couple of Rudd’s “Our Idiot Brother” co-stars have that heat too, and it suits them: Coogan knows just how to bare his teeth, or his testicles, for instance; and clearly it’s time for Hahn, hilarious here, to hold a proper movie of her own.
But then, maybe cast members groping for more than simple group buffoonery is what got the Weinsteins worried about taking the edge off this thing in the first place. Quoting Ned again: “Who’s the man?”