Spoiler alert: In Our Idiot Brother, the guy who’s the biggest moron among his family, his friends, and the whole of mankind ends up being the smartest of them all. Did I ruin it for you? Then you don’t have to waste your money on this promising but lifeless Sundance darling, which essentially takes Paul Rudd’s most irritating and unfunny character—Chuck, the stoner surfer from Forgetting Sarah Marshall—and settles in with him for 90 minutes. Dude!
Directed by Jesse Peretz (The Ex) and written by David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz (Jeese’s sister), Our Idiot Brother is so much lower-key than you’d expect, you’ll actually wish for some of the wackiness its title implies. Not that the actors don’t try. Rudd, of course, simply goes around “whoa”-ing as Ned, a biodynamic farmer who gets thrown in prison for selling weed to a cop and then needs a place to stay when he gets out, his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) having left him, evicted him, and kept his dog. So he turns to his sisters. Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) is the one most on Ned’s wavelength, a bisexual stand-up comedian who lives in a veritable commune and is nervous about moving in with her girlfriend (Rashida Jones, in distractingly gigantic and hideous glasses to look butch). Writer Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) and stay-at-home mom Liz (Emily Mortimer), however, are the high-strung type As that this paint-by-numbers script requires, and you can see Banks and Mortimer (more the former than the straighter-laced latter) manically straining to wring laughs out of their “I can’t believe he...!” lines.
Regarding what they can’t believe Ned did—well, name it. He ruins Miranda’s professional and love life. He upsets the imagined harmony in Liz’s marriage by suggesting to his other sisters that her husband (Steve Coogan, playing a first-rate dick) is having an affair. He dares to play martial arts with their son, River (Matthew Mindler). (Wait, wouldn’t this hippie be even more against fighting than his sis?) And he also threatens to tank Natalie’s relationship. Mostly, Ned does these things by opening his big mouth. Like when he tells his parole officer that he got so stressed out one night he smoked a joint.
Hardly a minute of it feels believable. There is one sincere sequence: During a night of family charades in which the sisters roll their eyes and Ned uncharacteristically but justifiably goes off on them, he finally seems like a fully formed human being. Another detail is shockingly genuine: Liz, in glasses with no makeup and hair messily pulled back, looks like a real mom. You think, Wow, it’s refreshing that the film’s creators would allow an actress to appear that way. Alas, it turns out to have to do with a plot point about how un-“fuckable” she’s become.
Our Idiot Brother may have come off the quasi-indie circuit (it’s being distributed by the Weinstein Company), but its heart is full-fledged, no-risk Hollywood dramedy. Rudd’s next move should be to shave off the beard, cut the hair, and return to the Apatovian bromances from whence he so successfully came.
Brighton Rock Directed by Rowan Joffe
A la True Grit, Brighton Rock isn’t a remake of a film but a re-adaptation of a novel. But that doesn’t make writer-director Rowan Joffe’s version an automatic success. Based on Graham Greene’s 1938 book, the film is slightly rejiggered (set in the ’60s instead of the ’30s) and is otherwise a forgettable film noir about a young mobster who takes a taste for vengeance and translates it into power.
Unfortunately, even another character describes Pinkie Brown (Sam Riley, a LeonardoDiCaprio lookalike) as “just like any other angry young man.” And it’s true: When Pinkie tells his pseudogirlfriend, Rose (Andrea Riseborough), “You’re good, and I’m bad,” that just about sums up the movie. The film opens with the accidental murder of the leader of Pinkie’s gang. He sees who does it and goes after him. The frightened killer knows he’s being targeted and tries to warm up to Rose when he sees her sitting at a pier, wishing to blend in with the other tourists. But Pinkie and another member of the gang spot him; a wandering photographer snaps a picture of Rose, the soon-to-be-dead man, and Pinkie’s cohort. So Pinkie makes it his mission to romance Rose both to get the claim ticket she holds for the photograph and to shut her up generally.
Naturally, Rose—a mousy waitress—believes they’re in love. And her naïveté (OK: stupidity) is largely the film’s undoing as she and Pinkie get more involved while she ignores all warnings that her fuzzy feelings aren’t mutual. Her boss (Helen Mirren), a friend of the dead man, warns her. Pinkie himself treats her cruelly and even tells her he hates her. Yet the girl marries him. She knows he’s done wrong, yet she’ll stand by him, she declares. The lengths she will go to do this will drop your jaw.
Besides Pinkie and Rose’s relationship, which the story spends entirely too much time on, there are subplots about Pinkie’s mission to rid the world of this gangster or that. He even goes to a rival gang’s boss (Andy Serkis, for once not CGI’d; he looks good with a smoking jacket and cigar). It’s all fairly pedestrian shut-them-all-up stuff, none of the action being particularly gripping.
The most impressive thing Brighton Rock has going for it is its cinematography. From the first shot to the last, many scenes are framed like photographs, usually in muted colors and balanced compositions. Often shrouded by fog and the darkness of night—with colors popping sparely in just the right places—some images are simply breathtaking. But with the only other remarkable aspect of the film being Rose’s innocence, the visuals of the story will stay with you longer than the plot.