Of all the perplexing realities of this sometimes cruel world that we live in, among the most bothersome is the fact that simple kindness is far too often seen as a sign of weakness. Taking things in stride, being easy-going, assuming the best in others and going out of ones way to help a stranger, are increasingly rare qualities and actions. To behave in such a fashion is now sadly viewed as naive and "soft." Society has made many of us a cynical, anxious and suspicious lot that are prone to manipulation, lies, selfishness and mistrust. Not Ned, however, the well meaning and optimistic protagonist of 'Our Idiot Brother.' No, good old Ned is something else entirely and it seems like the world just doesn't know what to do with him. A funny, heartfelt and wonderfully insightful comedy, the film is a humorous and ultimately uplifting examination of the trials and tribulations of one compassionate "idiot" hippie-stoner as he constantly clashes with the pessimistic world around him.
After Ned (Paul Rudd), a very friendly organic farmer and pothead, is arrested for offering weed to a police officer, he's released and put on probation. Kicked off of his girlfriend's farm and separated from his beloved dog, Willie Nelson, Ned turns to his mother and three sisters for support. As he is tossed from the care of one sibling to the next, his well meaning actions start to clash with the comparatively hostile world around him, causing unwanted conflict in the lives of his family members. Eventually, they all begin to view poor Ned as nothing more than an idiot nuisance, leading to a climax full of family drama and humor.
As played by Paul Rudd, the character of Ned becomes the central figure of the story and not only provides the movie with its biggest laughs, but also serves as the film's heart and soul. A deceptively simple and seemingly naive hippie with a thick beard and long hair, Ned is actually a rather fascinating protagonist. From the moment we first meet him, we instantly get a full sense of who he is. His first action on screen is a gesture of kindness that ends up getting him in trouble, and throughout the remainder of the running time the character is constantly punished for his well meaning deeds and loving outlook on life. He tries to do good, but ends up being oblivious to the potential damage his actions cause. He's the kind of guy who sees nothing wrong with asking a complete stranger on a subway to hold a handful of cash, and thus, he's the kind of guy that simply has no place in our current society. This juxtaposition of Ned's earnest optimism against the world's bitter negativity fuels most of the movie's humor and Rudd handles it all with charm, wit and a sincere smile on his face. The character is almost completely devoid of judgment and cynicism, and while his almost impossibly good-natured behavior can sometimes be comically dumb, Rudd always manages to give Ned a certain level of honest reality. In fact, as the film ultimately shows us, Ned really isn't an idiot at all, and he ends up becoming a kind of karmic ambassador of sorts, enriching the lives of his sisters.
Joining Rudd, is a very talented ensemble of performers. Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel play Ned's sisters and each actress crafts a unique and interesting character that bounces off of Rudd's simplistic demeanor perfectly. While Ned is the glue that holds the picture together, each sibling has their own subplot, mostly involving their romantic lives and family dynamics. Adam Scott, Rashida Jones and Steve Coogan round out the ensemble as the the sisters' various love interests and each does a great job. Coogan, in particular, is very amusing, and his arrogant, pompous character is essentially the antithesis of Ned, leading to some fun scenes between the two actors. The entire group meshes wonderfully together and coupled with the strong characterizations found in the script, they all create a very convincing, funny and honest family unit.
While the performances and story are all quite strong, there are some small shortcomings. The film's various subplots are all pretty basic and feature fairly generic conventions. The conclusion is predictable and while I liked the ending, it might a be a little too cute for its own good. The movie does a nice job of blending comedy and drama but a few of the jumps between tones don't always work, leading to a slightly disjointed feeling at times. Still, these are all relatively minor criticisms and the movie as a whole is very effective.
'Our Idiot Brother' is a funny, sweet, intelligent little film that wears its heart proudly on its sleeve without ever becoming overly sentimental or saccharine. While I'm a big fan of more cynical and anxiety ridden comedies, it's nice to see a movie that embraces a more positive outlook on life. Rudd turns in a scene stealing, relaxed and completely natural performance that offers effortless laughs. Through Ned's often humorous and sometimes silly journey, we discover that being friendly and trusting doesn't have to be a gesture of naivety or stupidity, and that being kind isn't a sign of weakness, but rather strength. Sure he can seem kind of dopey at times, but really, if we were all just a little bit more like Ned, the world might be a better place... or at the very least, a more stylish place. I mean look at him. Long hair, powerful beard, a striped tank top, some tiny shorts and a pair of Crocs. That's a damn good look. A damn good look, indeed.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Our Idiot Brother' is brought to Blu-ray by Anchor Bay on a single BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase. Some skippable trailers play upon startup before transitioning to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A compatible.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Shot in high definition, this is a very nice transfer that shows off the film's colorful, cheery design work and cinematography well.
The source is clean and pristine with no major signs of noise or compression artifacts. Detail is very solid, with several scenes exhibiting some strong depth. A few shots here and there look a bit more soft than others, but overall clarity is sharp, revealing intricate facial features and textures. Colors are wonderfully saturated and vibrant, popping off the screen. The rich, cheery palette perfectly complements the tone of the movie and much like Ned's own perspective, finds a kind of happy-go-lucky quality in even the most mundane settings. Black levels are consistent and though contrast can be a tad blown out at times, the blooming whites fit well with the content. I did detect some very minor haloing in a scene or two, but the instances are so infrequent and negligible that they may very well be inherent to the shooting methods and not the transfer itself.
'Our Idiot Brother' looks quite good, with a very bright and colorful transfer. Some scenes are less impressive than others (particularly those set at night), but with a lush palette and pleasing level of dimension, this is a vivid film that shines nicely on Blu-ray.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. Subtitle options include English SDH and Spanish. Featuring very modest sound design, this is a perfectly serviceable though never particularly immersive mix.
Dialogue is clean and always easy to make out with no instances of crackle or distortion. Activity across the front soundstage is strong, with some nice directional separation for effects and music cues. With that said, this is a relatively quiet, dialogue centric film and surround use is pretty sparse and insignificant. Some minor echoes of music and ambiance hit the rears but it never really adds much to the proceedings. Outside of a brief party scene, bass activity is negligible. Given the modest content, dynamic range is more than adequate and the sweet, catchy score comes through with nice fidelity. The audio elements are all balanced well with no one aspect overpowering another.
Though not terribly enveloping, the mix suits the movie well, providing crisp delivery to all of Rudd's humorous ad libs. The audio is nothing to get excited about, but free of any technical issues, it gets the job done just fine.
Anchor Bay has included a small but decent assortment of special features. All of the extras are presented in standard definition with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and optional English subtitles.
'Our Idiot Brother' is a sweet, funny, and surprisingly insightful comedy that offers a refreshingly optimistic outlook. Though some elements are a bit predictable and generic, the talented ensemble, led by a charming performance from Paul Rudd, more than make up for any small narrative shortcomings. Video and audio quality are both good, bolstering the modest and upbeat tone. Supplements are a bit slim but offer some decent production trivia. With a very likeable protagonist, a nice blend of humor and drama, and a solid technical presentation, this disc is definitely recommended.