Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sundance USA: My Idiot Brother

Wow, are my pictures from this horrific. I'm not even going to consider subjecting you to the reddish blobs my camera took of director Jesse Peretz.

The Sundance USA program - where movies from the current Sundance Film Festival screen at different venues around the country while the festival is still going on - is a nifty idea, and as close to the Park City as many of us are ever going to get. (What, you think I'm going to take a vacation in the middle of January to go someplace that's even colder and snowier than New England? There are, in fact, limits to how much I love film.) Sundance is a big and cool thing, but has grown rather distant over time; Austin's SXSW film festival, for instance, got the reputation of being just as viable a place to premiere films without seeming as snobby or industry-focused. That's a reputation that Sundance probably doesn't deserve - in addition to the festival, the Sundance Institute has a number of filmmaker-focused programs - but when more of the news coming out of Utah is about sales and celebrity sightings than whether something is a good movie, it's easy to get the wrong imipression.

So they reach out to the country at large, showing us that they are really all about promoting independent film - as much as there's a lot of business-oriented stuff going on, their mission is still, mainly, to give independent filmmakers a chance for their works to be seen. It's probably no coincidence that at least some of the pictures chosen, like My Idiot Brother, are much more mainstream than avant-garde. This is a fun movie, and for the people who were there Thursday night, their first-hand encounter with Sundance is now something enjoyable and not pretentious at all.

My Idiot Brother

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 27 January 2010 at The Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sundance USA)

My Idiot Brother is just as broad a comedy as its name suggests but a good deal less mean-spirited. In other eras, it might have been a door-slamming farce, although in the present its screwball tendencies are held back just a little; well-rounded characters are valued a bit more now.

Title character Ned (Paul Rudd) is, indeed, not very bright - he gets sent to jail not just for selling pot to a police officer, but to a uniformed one - but there's not a mean bone in his body. The same is not true for girlfriend Janet (Kathryn Hahn), who has found a new boyfriend (T.J. Miller) and kicks him off the farm, not even letting him take Willie Nelson, despite Willie obviously being Ned's dog. So he winds up back home with his mother (Shirley Knight), but soon winds up couch-surfing and picking up odd jobs with his three sisters. Housewife Liz (Emily Mortimer) gets him a job helping her husband (Steve Coogan) shoot a documentary, but they don't really approve of him roughhousing with their son River (Matthew Mindler). Writer Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) has him drive her around while doing a story on Lady Arabella (Janet Montgomery), who won't tell Miranda the juicy stuff Miranda's editors want but hits it off with Ned right away. Youngest sister Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) lets him in on a secret that could wreck her relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones), who's helping him get Willie back. And while Ned would never do anything to hurt his family, he tends to take what people say at face value, so inevitably things are going to slip out.

Ned is stunned to find out that River has never seen The Pink Panther early on, and it's not surprising that director Jesse Peretz and writers Evgenia Peretz (his sister) & David Schisgall (her husband) would refer to that movie. After all, Ned's not so distant a relative from Clouseau, a well-meaning force of comedic chaos who wanders from one situation to another, frustrating people terribly even though he is seldom actually the cause of their problems. From the first moment that the trusting Ned sees something with a chance of causing trouble, Peretz does a fine job of both keeping a number of balls in the air and dropping them when it seems appropriate; it's a fun blend of both comedy and comic anticipation.

Full review at EFC.


Sammy V said...

Sounds like it's worth checking out

Missy Kaye said...

I really wanted to see this - I remember hearing about it :)
Love your blog by the way - will definitely be back