The cast of “My Idiot Brother” is so overstuffed with talent it almost seems unfair, like the film should be subject to some kind of comedy handicap. Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel play a trio of sisters leading lives of various complications in New York City. Steve Coogan, Adam Scott and Rashida Jones appear as their various love interests, Shirley Knight, Kathryn Hahn and others turn up in smaller roles. And, of course, there’s Paul Rudd as the title character, more commonly known as Ned, a farmer of organic produce and pot who in a mixture of stupidity and naive generosity gifts some of his contraband to a uniformed officer who claims to be in need because he’s having a tough week, and who then busts him.
Even when he’s doing smarmy, there’s never a doubt that the majority of the characters Rudd plays are fundamentally nice guys with squishy centers. But Ned is on another level, one washed with a perma-stoned, blissfully optimistic haze. Shaggy, clueless, shorts-wearing and intent on always seeing the best in people, Ned is a hippie holy fool, one who just wants to hang out with his dog Willie Nelson and work on his tomion (a tomato/onion hybrid that will make spaghetti sauce that much easier), but who ends up farmless and dogless after his stint in jail. He stays first with his white wine drunk of a mother (Knight) in Long Island, and then which each of his sisters in succession, accidentally and with the best of intentions wreaking havoc on each of their lives.
With its stars and sleek production values, “My Idiot Brother” could be an Apatow comedy (it was directed by Jesse Peretz, of 2001’s “The Château”), right down to the rueful warmth infused into its portrayals of domestic relationships. But Peretz’s film actually has prominent female characters (the script was co-written by David Schisgall and Peretz’s sister Evgenia) who are there for more than just to scold, ones who are more ambitious and less cripplingly pure of heart than Ned. Mortimer is an overprotective, frazzled mother, Banks a cutthroat magazine writer, Deschanel a hipster flake/would-be stand-up comedian, and they’re so entrenched in these roles that they resent the intrusion of someone who doesn’t grasp the social rules that allow them to operate, and who without meaning to forces them to come to terms with the compromises, moral and otherwise, they make. Ned may be the star, but his sisters actually try to live in this world. They’re the ones that grow and change over the course of the film, and in the current dude-centric state of the comedy, that’s something to see.
“My Idiot Brother” has been acquired for a theatrical release by the Weinstein Company.