Do you ever get sick of films that obviously have a large amount of improv? I'm fine with a few riffs here or there, but sometimes I long for tighter editing and, you know, actual writing. A line that I loved in The AV Club's excellent "Michael Schur walks us through Parks And Recreation" article series was when showrunner Schur was discussing the use of improvisation on his series and noted, "[W]e have many, many times thrown away jokes that we thought were way funnier than the stuff we wrote because, completely unintentionally, in the moment, they alter the scene. They change the motivation of the character or they indicate that the character doesn't care about something that he or she cares about or something. And I will always cut those jokes out because it's never worth sacrificing the scene or the story or the character for one joke."
In Our Idiot Brother, above all else, I felt that same type of editing. A film about a perpetually cheerful guy named Ned (Paul Rudd), who finds himself homeless and at the mercy of his three sisters (played by Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel), I can only imagine how many hours of Paul Rudd improv director Jesse Peretz (The Chateau, The Ex) has laying on a cutting room floor somewhere, just waiting for the movie's DVD release. The restraint is appreciated, as the film could have easily been one bountiful of celebrities but void of actual plot. That's not to say there aren't hilarious scenes or anything; there's just a sense of purpose with them -- and then there's parts that don't have many jokes at all.
I also admire that despite the fact that Ned sold drugs to a uniformed police offer, and that the entire film revolves around him messing-up-but-actually-improving his sisters' lives, he's not entirely your standard Magical Stoner trope... I mean, he is on the surface level, but the writing behind Ned and his sisters speak more of realism and less of lazy convenience. The same is true about the setting of the film. Whereas The Smurfs dishonors its New York City setting, Our Idiot Brother celebrates it: sister Liz (Mortimer) and her husband (Steve Coogan) are overachieving yuppie Park Slope-type parents, sister Natalie (Deschanel) and her girlfriend (Rashida Jones, who I wish always played a hip lesbian) live in one of the eccentric lofts so bountiful in the Williamsburg area, Miranda (Banks) is a Manhattanite who works at Vanity Fair and lives in a walk-up with failing appliances, their mom (Shirley Knight) resides in a sweet-but-suffocating suburb of Long Island and Ned, before getting kicked out of his own home by his ex-girlfriend (Katheryn Hahn), spent his days at a co-op farm that sold to the local farmers' market. Each neighborhood sums up the mentality of its character, and as a New Yorker I could not have enjoyed that more.
As you'd imagine with this group of actors, the cast -- which also included Adam Scott, be still my beating heart -- was thoroughly enjoyable, and the acting was fun. You know getting into this plot what's ultimately going to happen, but that's fine. And with the exception of beard-clad Paul Rudd starring as a guy who isn't meant to just be the clean-cut dreamboat he usually is, everyone played what they pretty much always play... so if you, like me, are one of the very few people in the world who don't find Zooey Deschanel flawlessly adorable, you won't come out of the film her No. 1 fan or anything. As a whole, though, it's a pleasant movie that likely won't fly under the radar as most of these indie dramedies do. And also: There's some first-rate use of male nudity. Don't say I didn't warn you.
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