Our Idiot Brother


Our Idiot Brother

Elizabeth Banks is amused as Paul Rudd tries the Bertie Botts Every Flavor Frozen Yogurt

(2011) Comedy (Weinstein) Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Rashida Jones, Hugh Dancy, Kathryn Hahn, Shirley Knight, Janet Montgomery, Steve Coogan, Bob Stephenson, Peter Hermann, Adam Scott, T.J. Miller, Lydia Haug. Directed by Jesse Peretz

We all are suspicious of things that are too good to be true, whether they be products or people. When people come along who seem to be too nice by half, we wonder if they are manipulating us – or are just plain idiots.

Ned Rochlin (Rudd) is an amiable biodynamic farmer selling his organic wares at a local market when he is approached by a uniformed police officer (Stephenson) who wants to buy some weed. The good-natured Ned, not understanding what was happening, sells it to him and is promptly arrested and sent to jail (although he gets out early for good behavior).

When he does get released, things have changed. His bitchy ex-girlfriend Janet (Hahn) kicks him out, having taken up with Billy (Miller) and refusing to let him claim his dog Willie Nelson. Ned is forced to move back in with his mom (Knight) who’s a bit of an alcoholic and whose style doesn’t exactly conform to Ned’s.

Ned’s three sisters aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to spend time with him. Miranda (Banks) is a self-absorbed career woman trying to make it as a reporter at Vanity Fair and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there. She isn’t seeing anyone, although Jeremy (Scott), a neighbor, would certainly like to have some of her undivided attention.

Then there’s Natalie (Deschanel), a barista and aspiring stand-up comic who lives with Cindy (Jones), a lawyer. Natalie is oversexed and has a one-night stand in a taxicab that ends up with her getting pregnant, which she doesn’t want to tell Cindy about. Finally, Liz (Mortimer) lives in a sexless marriage with Dylan (Coogan), a documentary filmmaker who also regards Ned as something of a moron.

Ned goes to stay with each sister in turn, finding out some dirt on each of them and letting it slip out at inopportune moments. He is good-natured and sweet but he doesn’t know when to keep things to himself. He is utterly honest and guileless and can’t conceive of a world that isn’t, so he wreaks havoc in each of his sisters lives like a hippie tornado.

There is a lot of charm to Our Idiot Brother and it largely comes from Rudd. He is genial, even if he is wearing one of the worst cinematic beards ever. He is so sweet and lovable you can’t help him even if he is dumb as a rock. He’s like that big lovable goofy dog we’ve all had; you kind of love him because he’s a numbskull.

The ladies are all veterans of the indie movie scene and they don’t quite fare as well, sadly. Deschanel is one of the most talented actresses around (not to mention one of the most beautiful) but she is given little to work with other than a libido. Mortimer is forced to drop her robe in front of a disinterested Coogan and mostly look constipated. Banks comes off as an evil love child between Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep’s satanic editor from The Devil Wears Prada) and J. Pierrepont Finch (the ambitious office nebbish in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).

All three are mostly given character flaws along with an abiding feeling of superiority over their brother, who they all look upon as a complete moron. Of course, all are redeemed by their brother’s honesty and kindness – I’m not giving away anything you couldn’t figure out before walking into the theater. Sadly, they aren’t memorable characters and their conversion comes without any effort or sacrifice. You never get the sense that they suffered in order to come out the other side smelling like a rose.

There are some very funny moments (a party scene where naive Ned falls into a threesome for example) but not enough to sustain the movie which seems to meander aimlessly from scene to scene. There doesn’t seem to be much point here other than to make a sweet, charming comedy which is quite all right by me, but at times this seems more of a collection of scenes than anything else and that’s a bit disconcerting.

It’s worth seeing for Rudd alone – he can be as charming as they come. This isn’t the vehicle that is going to lift him into another strata of stardom however; that will have to come another day.

REASONS TO GO: Rudd is terribly likable and charming. The cast is exceptionally talented.

REASONS TO STAY: There’s little inertia and the movie runs on too long. There are not enough funny moments to sustain it.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s some nudity and sexual content, as well as a few F bombs and other crude words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie came together unusually quickly, taking about four months from the time producer Peter Saraf read the script to the day shooting wrapped.

HOME OR THEATER: It won’t be around in theaters much longer given the box office numbers, but that’s okay – this will work perfectly well on the home screen.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Debt

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee


Keanu Reeves pretends to listen to what Robin Wright Penn is saying.

(2009) Dramedy (Screen Media) Robin Wright Penn, Keanu Reeves, Alan Arkin, Blake Lively, Maria Bello, Monica Bellucci, Julianne Moore, Winona Ryder, Shirley Knight, Mike Binder, Zoe Kazan, Ryan McDonald. Directed by Rebecca Miller

What lies beneath the veneer of a pleasant suburban life isn’t always what you think it might be. A Martha Stewart-perfect housewife may have a sordid past; indeed, so may we all.

Pippa Lee (Wright Penn) appears to be that perfect wife and mother. She is an impressive cook, has raised two adult children and keeps her home immaculate. She is married to Herb (Arkin), a semi-retired publishing magnate who lives life with perhaps more gusto than he should; after all, he’s pushing 80. The two have moved to an upscale Connecticut retirement home even though Pippa is far from retirement age.

While friend Sam Shapiro (Binder) toasts her as an enigma in a complimentary way, Pippa doesn’t find it to be  a compliment. She’d rather be known, as she says on the voiceover. An enigma can be relegated, set aside, ignored, taken for granted. In many ways, Pippa is all of those things. In many ways, she chose those as a refuge from a life that was a little bit more wild once upon a time.

Her life has never been an easy one. She grew up (portrayed by Lively as the young Pippa) in a home dominated by her drug-addicted mom Suky (Bello) and eventually escaped her psychotic mom’s embraces to go live with her kind-hearted lesbian aunt – at least until her aunt’s girlfriend (Moore), a photographer who specializes in lesbian sadomasochistic pornography, decides to have Pippa pose for a few shots.

Pippa goes on to live on the fringes of society in the places where young women indulge in drug use and random sex. She would seem to be headed on the same self-destructive path of her mother had it not been for a chance encounter with Herb at a party, even though Herb is married to a frightfully high-strung European named Gigi (Belluci). Herb and Pippa begin an affair that leads Herb to ask for a divorce, which leads to a rather shocking denouement.

In the present, she is placed in a position that gives her far too much free time to consider what she’s given up for this comfortable life. She confides in a neighbor (Ryder) who goes on strange but amusing crying jags and begins a romantic flirtation with Chris (Reeves), the honest-to-a-fault son of another neighbor (Knight) who is going through a shiftless phase at the moment (Chris, not his mom). That seems to be just what the doctor ordered for Pippa – until her entire world is shattered.

Miller directed this from a novel that she herself wrote. She has shown in some of her previous films (Angela, The Ballad of Jack and Rose) a keen eye for the female viewpoint and for women’s issues in general. Not that this is an issue film as such – while Pippa does have issues, they aren’t any that would get a charity fund. It’s more of a character study.

Wright Penn, who after the filming of this movie divorced Sean Penn and dropped the Penn from her name, gives one of her more compelling performances, which is saying something considering some of the roles she’s assayed over the past 20 years. I believe her to be the best actress working who’s never been nominated for an Oscar; I suspect had this movie gotten distribution from a bigger studio, she might just have given up that dubious distinction.

When you consider the impressive cast behind her (who all do a terrific job by the way) it’s a wonder that a major (or at least a midsize studio) didn’t pick this up, but perhaps they might have had some of the same qualms about the movie I did. I found that the flashbacks were a bit jarring in places, giving the movie a kind of choppy feel. The flow between Pippa’s previous lives and her present one never feels organic, making the movie feel oddly unsatisfying.

I will give Miller props for not taking the easy path with this and degenerating into schmaltz and treacle. This isn’t soap opera fare to say the least; while you may feel sorry for Pippa, you never for a moment get the impression she feels sorry for herself. I believe this is meant to be a look at the complexities of a specific woman and point out that even the most accomplished and apparently successful people didn’t get there without cost. Sometimes they pay a heavy price for the lives they lead; Miller, who is the daughter of playwright Arthur Miller, undoubtedly knows that better than most.

WHY RENT THIS: Wright gives a splendid performance and gets some real support from a fine cast. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is disjointed at times and the flow can be a bit rough. Some of the movie’s raw emotional scenes left me unmoved.

FAMILY VALUES: The movie has a decent amount of sexual situations including some brief nudity. There’s also a scene of drug use and some coarse language throughout.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Julianne Moore spent only two days filming her part.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Entertainment journalists lob up some softball questions in what appears to be footage from a press junket.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $2.7M on an unreported production budget; the film probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5.5/10

TOMORROW: TRON: Legacy

Paul Blart: Mall Cop


Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Shoplifters, be terrified: Paul Blart is on the job!

(Columbia) Kevin James, Jayma Mays, Keir O’Donnell, Raini Rodriguez, Shirley Knight, Bobby Cannavale, Erick Avari, Stephen Rannazzisi. Directed by Steve Carr

The legendary baseball manager Leo Durocher once famously said “Nice guys finish last,” and in our ultra-competitive American culture we have taken that as gospel. Sometimes, though, it’s not about finishing first – it’s about finishing at all.

Paul Blart (James) is a nice guy. He’s a single dad with a daughter (Rodriguez) who adores him and a mom (Knight) who spoils him. He works as a security guard at the local mall, but he dreams of becoming a state trooper. However, he’s hypoglycemic and passes out from low blood sugar inches short of qualifying for the exam.

Blart is on the socially awkward side. He has a thing for Amy (Mays) who sells hair extensions out of a kiosk, but is all thumbs when it comes to wooing her. He is the object of scorn to most of the people who work at the mall, especially pen salesman Stuart (Rannazzisi), who consider him something of a fat loser on a Segway. In fact, this movie might have the highest amount of Segway use of any movie ever. Take that for what it’s worth.

Anyway, he isn’t too busy to train Veck (O’Donnell), a newbie on the security team, or hang out with Vijay (Avari) who sells cell phones. After mistakenly drinking a pitcher of margaritas (he thought it was the non-alcoholic sort), he manages to alienate Amy and get his heart broken, not for the first time.

Then on Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year), a gang of parkour runnin’ skateboardin’ tattooed criminals take over the mall in an effort to get the credit card codes so they can make off with a huge score electronically. Blart manages quite accidentally to be the only security man left inside the mall. This is his chance to finally be the hero he always wanted to be. But is he that hero, or the fat loser that everyone thinks he is?

I think you know the answer to that question. This is a very rare movie in that is a comedy that appeals to a family crowd that doesn’t portray every adult as a complete buffoon and have kids save the day. It also is a comedy that doesn’t drop an “f” bomb every other word and rely on sexual and scatological humor to carry it through.

This is essentially a 90 minute sitcom, with all that implies both positively and negatively. Blart is a bit of a schlub, but his heart is in the right place. There are a lot of fat jokes and pratfalls, but James is so likable that you can’t help but be won over by him.

This isn’t rocket science and by the same token it isn’t the worst movie ever either. While it got blasted by critics at its release, I can’t really figure out why it got so much hate. It really is an inoffensive, at times charming film. It doesn’t really inspire great love; by logical extension it shouldn’t inspire great hate either. It’s a movie that if you see it, you shouldn’t feel like you completely wasted your time.

WHY RENT THIS: Essentially harmless with a few laughs scattered here and there. James is a pleasant lead.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not what I would call essential to your DVD collection, while it is mostly inoffensive there isn’t any real bite to it.

FAMILY VALUES: The humor is a little crude in places and there’s some mild violence; otherwise, this is perfectly acceptable for all audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first movie with a release date in January to ever gross over $100 million at the box office.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Going the Distance