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Our Idiot Brother

Our Idiot Brother

This is a movie about Ned (Paul Rudd) the world's greatest hippie, and the film's titular heroic idiot. When hard times force Ned to return to his mother's house he is thrown into the lives of his three sisters and his innocent honesty and earnestness causes all of their lives to collapse into creative anarchy.

This reviewer was ready to savage this film about a super hippie, but the magical hippie foiled all my plans. Goddam hippies!

My favorite quote from South Park references hippies:

"Sure, hippies say they want to save the world. But all they ever manage to do is smoke a lot of weed and smell bad." - Eric Cartman.

Truer words have never been spoken, friends. And so it was with great interest that I viewed Our Idiot Brother, which chronicles the life-destroying exploits of Ned, who is by far the most spiritually pure hippie who ever lived.

The story begins at a farmer's market, where Ned sells vegetables. A customer acknowledges that his vegetables are always spectacular (still hating hippies at this point in the film) and Ned attributes this to his use of Willie Nelson's feces as fertilizer. Willie Nelson is Ned's golden retriever, and he so loves the pooch that he regularly open mouth kisses him. And he always refers to him as 'Willie Nelson' -- not 'Willie' or 'Will'.

As Ned completes the sale, he spies the customer's little girl eating a strawberry. Her father says, "Now, don't do that -- we didn't pay for it!" When they leave, Ned motions her back and gives her a plateful of strawberries on the sly, free of charge. (I still hate hippies, sorry, even the berry-gifting variety.)

Not long aftter a uniformed police officer approaches Ned, says hello, and asks Ned if he's got any marijuana, by substituting the word 'weed' with as many euphemisms for the drug as humanly possible. Ned says he doesn't have any. And the cop states that he only needed it because he's been having such a rough week. The officer starts to leave, but, touched by his rough patch, Ned gives him his own weed. The cop offers to pay, but Ned declines. The cop insists on paying, and Ned finally shrugs and says, "Um, I dunno, twenty bucks?" The cop pays, and they share a good laugh -- and the cop tells him he's under arrest.

Ned remains calm, unbelieving: "Really? Aww man.... seriously?"

Cop: "Yeah. Seriously. You're under arrest."

And this is the nature of Ned. He's so innocent that he doesn't seem to be capable of interacting normally. He's not Forrest Gump -- his IQ isn't 75, but his common sense seems to be zero. He's just too open and honest for the normal world. He doesn't know when to lie, when to remain silent. If you've ever seen the character 'Butters' from South Park, then you have a sense of what Ned is about. He's just kindness and happiness, wrapped in innocence, with a liquid core of pure (dangerous) earnestness.

Ned is finally released from jail and returns to his girlfriend's organic farm to discover that he's been replaced by a slightly fatter, grimier male hippie. His ex-girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn) is very crunchy, with freckles and dreadlocks, bummed that he returned at all. The new boyfriend arrives and there's laughably little testosterone in the scene. This is how hippie males battle for females: they shake hands and hug one another and the new hippie in Janet's life gives them room to 'do this' and wanders off to milk the organic goats, or farm some more crap.

The worst of it, however, is that Janet refuses to let Ned take Willie Nelson with him, citing slacker hippie common law: "Dude, it was my friend who left Willie Nelson here, so that makes him mine." So Ned is left without a girlfriend, without Willie Nelson, without a job, and no place to live.

Ned ends up moving back into his mother's home, and then by degrees back into the lives of his three sisters. There's Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a controlling tabloid journalist who can't find Mr. Right. Then there's Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), the artist who is dating lesbian Cindy (Rashida Jones). And finally, there's Liz (Emily Mortimer), who is married to a director with two children.

It's Liz who takes her brother in first, trying to get her husband to give him a job on the set of his newest documentary about ballerinas. Ned plays with their 8-year-old son, River, showing him Pink Panther movies and mock karate-fighting with him. River's father and mother are upset at this, because violence isn't one of their values. Poor River is forced to learn some ridiculous Middle Eastern flute in order that he 'coruscate' at his elite elementary school interview. Uncle Ned realizes that the kid just wants to do some karate with the other boys his age. Instead his parents make River do bikram yoga.

(A hippie who isn't averse to some martial arts? Starting to like this hippie, just a little bit.)

This leads to a hysterical interview with the headmistress of the elite school. When asked what he likes to do, River explains that his primary interest is 'fighting' -- and demonstrates his karate prowess to every adult's horror.

It becomes clear that it's not Ned who has a problem, it's everyone else. They've all got plans and schemes and goals and mission statements, whereas Ned just wants to enjoy life, moment to moment. Before the movie is over, Ned has trashed the lesbian relationship his sister had, ruined his other sister's career and destroyed the other sister's marriage. They all blame Ned for their trouble, only coming to realize later that the seeds of destruction were always there, Ned just watered them, he just delivered the bad news.

There are scenes in Our Idiot Brother that are incredibly funny -- writers David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz manage to honor and mock the hippie archtype beautifully here. Ned never talks about politics, and they never play any hippie music (Amen.) and Ned doesn't smoke weed constantly.

Some standout comic moments: Ned inadvertantly manages to get himself entangled with a bisexual couple. He ends up making out with the wife, and when the husband starts kissing him, his reactions are so funny you will probably die from laughter. Ned is creeped out, but doesn't want to upset anyone, but finally cries out, "I can't do this!!!" Ned, being the kindhearted idiot he is, immediately tries to salvage their feelings by giving the husband a chaste peck on the cheek.

Later, a friend consoles Ned about the episode:

Friend: "Ned, you're not a homophobe. You're just not a homosexual. It's okay."
Ned: "I just, you know, I ... maybe I could have tried a little harder, you know? To get into it more? I dunno..."

The dialogue is great here, likely because at least some of it appears to be ad-libbed by the actor's themselves. In another scene, Ned is convinced by his sister's masculine lesbian lover to steal back Willie Nelson. She (the lesbian) gives Ned (the hippie) a 'manning up' pep talk:

Lesbian: "Say it, Ned! Who's the man?!"
Ned: (with enthusiasm) "Who's the man!!"
Lesbian: "No, Ned -- you're the man."
Ned: "You're the man!!!"
Lesbian: "No, say it, say 'I'm the man!'"

And so it goes, in 'who's-on-first' fashion, with Ned finally ginning up his machismo.

Thankfully, the humor is not scatalogical, and the film manages to be heartwarming without being cloying. After Ned completely eviscerates the lives of his three sisters he goes back to his aging mother's house, in his old bed, complete with posters from when he was a boy. His mother tells him not to worry, that his sister's don't understand him; that they don't understand the two of them.

This reviewer still loathes actual hippies in all their various subspecies, but grudgingly acknowledges that this is a great movie version of a hippie. Granted, there's no hippie alive as pure of heart as Ned, but the idea of him is beautiful. Ned is a kind of Billy Budd of the hippies. Except they only hang him metaphorically, not literally.

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