Ruining Paul Rudd

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Film.


Count Our Idiot Brother among Paul Rudd’s poor choices—a select group of dumb to unbearable films including The Shape of Things, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Dinner for Schmucks that waste the actor’s estimable gifts. Rudd’s commitment to playing off-center characters who combine nerdiness with idiosyncratic charm has made him a new kind of romantic comedian. He takes the Cary Grant mantel into the post-feminist era, where masculinity shades easily into non-aggressive, quasi-gay traits—the hallmarks of Rudd’s best characterizations in I Love You Man, Role Models, Diggers and Clueless.


But the role of Ned in Our Idiot Brother falls short of Rudd’s usual New Male insights. As the slacker brother to three sisters who represent different contemporary anxieties (sexually confused Zooey Deschanel, careerist Elizabeth Banks and hausfrau Emily Mortimer), Ned is a kind of rebel. He dates a hippie chick farmer and loves his dog, named Willie Nelson. (“I’ve got a wonderful future behind me,” the real Willie Nelson warbles on the soundtrack.) Ned is such an anti-hipster he even sells weed to a cop, which lands him in jail and prompts his confrontation with stern social realities.

That’s right, Ned is either retarded or just a hopeless indie movie conceit. It’s obvious that director Jesse Peretz has asked Rudd to do a Lebowski. He has The Dude’s long-haired, bearded pothead look, and Rudd’s performance in Our Idiot Brother should have been as great a characterization as Jeff Bridges’ in The Big Lebowski. But Bridges and the Coen Brothers conceived an original figure. Here, Nedrick Rockland is a vapid conceit: He annoys some, charms others. He’s pointedly not a hippie but his innocence makes him an anachronism, a fool. (“Dude, do you have Tourette’s?” a perturbed character complains.) Rudd coasts on charm—and a blatant Bridges homage—because Ned lacks social roots. Peretz (directing a script co-written by his wife Evgenia Peretz and David Schissgal) uses Ned to absolve middleclass guilt by fatuously spoofing its vanity in contrast to Ned’s vague virtues. (Peretz writes for Vanity Fair, a detail satirized through Banks’ character.) Ned says, “If you put your truth out, there people will rise to the occasion,” but his faith is vague, a ruse. It contradicts his lovable uncle act (“He’s just a little boy. Little boys fight. It doesn’t mean he’s going to grow up to be a frat-boy rapist”).

The Peretzes try creating a modern icon without risking any genuine moral principles. Ned represents a specious P.C. saintliness that Rudd only occasionally pulls off, as in his characteristic show of chagrin when Ned apologizes for his inability to please a bisexual couple. (Later he’s assured, “Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you’re homophobic.”) This ’s “doesn’t mean…” bromides prove the Peretzes’ sneaky moralizing; they don’t challenge bourgeois complacency, as Jean Renoir and scruffy Michel Simon did in the 1932 Boudu Saved From Drowning. Rather, Ned is smugly privileged. When the sisters rally and overstate his cause (“Nobody loves anything as unconditionally as Ned!”), the zero philosophy equals narcissism. Usually movies this slick and contrived have a shiny, Hollywood look, but Our Idiot Brother’s unslick look is dreadful. It lacks the professionalism of mumblecore. Frowziness is only acceptable if there’s greater realism and depth. Not only is Rudd’s charm wasted, Yaron Orbach’s smudgy images make everyone look grimy. In more ways than one, Our Idiot Brother is an eyesore.

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Ruining Paul Rudd

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


Count Our Idiot Brother among
Paul Rudd’s poor choices—a select
group of dumb to unbearable films
including The Shape of Things, Forgetting
Sarah Marshall and Dinner for Schmucks
that waste the actor’s estimable gifts.
Rudd’s commitment to playing off-center
characters who combine nerdiness with
idiosyncratic charm has made him a new
kind of romantic comedian. He takes the
Cary Grant mantel into the post-feminist
era, where masculinity shades easily into
non-aggressive, quasi-gay traits—the
hallmarks of Rudd’s best characterizations
in I Love You Man, Role Models, Diggers
and Clueless. 

But the role of Ned in Our Idiot
Brother falls short of Rudd’s usual New
Male insights. As the slacker brother
to three sisters who represent different
contemporary anxieties (sexually confused
Zooey Deschanel, careerist Elizabeth
Banks and hausfrau Emily Mortimer),
Ned is a kind of rebel. He dates a hippie
chick farmer and loves his dog, named
Willie Nelson. ("I’ve got a wonderful
future behind me," the real Willie Nelson
warbles on the soundtrack.) Ned is such
an anti-hipster he even sells weed to a cop,
which lands him in jail and prompts his
confrontation with stern social realities. 

That’s right, Ned is either retarded
or just a hopeless indie movie conceit.
It’s obvious that director Jesse Peretz
has asked Rudd to do a Lebowski. He
has The Dude’s long-haired, bearded
pothead look, and Rudd’s performance
in Our Idiot Brother should have been as
great a characterization as Jeff Bridges’
in The Big Lebowski. But Bridges and
the Coen Brothers conceived an original
figure. Here, Nedrick Rockland is a
vapid conceit: He annoys some, charms
others. He’s pointedly not a hippie but his
innocence makes him an anachronism, a
fool. ("Dude, do you have Tourette’s?" a
perturbed character complains.)
Rudd coasts on charm—and a blatant
Bridges homage—because Ned lacks social
roots. Peretz (directing a script co-written
by his wife Evgenia Peretz and David
Schissgal) uses Ned to absolve middleclass
guilt by fatuously spoofing its vanity
in contrast to Ned’s vague virtues. (Peretz
writes for Vanity Fair, a detail satirized
through Banks’ character.) Ned says, "If
you put your truth out, there people will
rise to the occasion," but his faith is vague,
a ruse. It contradicts his lovable uncle act
("He’s just a little boy. Little boys fight. It
doesn’t mean he’s going to grow up to be a
frat-boy rapist"). 

The Peretzes try creating a modern
icon without risking any genuine moral
principles. Ned represents a specious P.C.
saintliness that Rudd only occasionally
pulls off, as in his characteristic show
of chagrin when Ned apologizes for his
inability to please a bisexual couple. (Later
he’s assured, "Just because you’re straight
doesn’t mean you’re homophobic.") This
’s "doesn’t mean…" bromides prove
the Peretzes’ sneaky moralizing; they don’t
challenge bourgeois complacency, as Jean
Renoir and scruffy Michel Simon did in
the 1932 Boudu Saved From Drowning.
Rather, Ned is smugly privileged.
When the sisters rally and overstate
his cause ("Nobody loves anything as
unconditionally as Ned!"), the zero
philosophy equals narcissism.
Usually movies this slick and contrived
have a shiny, Hollywood look, but Our Idiot
Brother’s unslick look is dreadful. It lacks the
professionalism of mumblecore. Frowziness
is only acceptable if there’s greater realism
and depth. Not only is Rudd’s charm
wasted, Yaron Orbach’s smudgy images
make everyone look grimy. In more ways
than one, Our Idiot Brother is an eyesore. 

>>Our Idiot Brother

Directed by Jesse Peretz 

Running time: 95 min.

..