It's a hard, cruel, cynical world out there, but Ned Rochlin soldiers on, undaunted, a smile on his face, and maybe a little weed in his lungs. Wide-eyed and scruffy, Ned is played with slow-on-the-uptake comic cool by Paul Rudd - it's a role, in Our Idiot Brother, that the actor seems to inhabit happily. He's like a golden retriever with Crocs (OK, and with long, messy black hair and a beard): trusting, eager to please, impossible to embarrass.
In fact, Ned has a golden retriever, whom he calls Willie Nelson, and who's at the center of a custody battle between Ned and his organic farmer ex-girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn). Getting the pooch back after she dumps him is one of Ned's more pressing concerns. Pretty much everything else - where to live, how to make money, what to do with his life - is up for grabs.
Our Idiot Brother, directed by Jesse Peretz from a screenplay written by his sister, Evgenia Peretz, and her partner, David Schisgall, is a suitably laid-back and goofy affair. And, of course, there's really nothing idiotic about Rudd's Ned at all. He just expects everyone else to be as good-hearted and guileless as he is.
"People rise to the occasion," he explains. Except, they don't.
And so Ned can be cited as the unwitting catalyst for all sorts of exasperation and agitation among the people around him. These include his three highly dissimilar sisters: Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), a tightly wound journalist; Liz (Emily Mortimer), a messy mom with a pre-K son and a possibly philandering documentary filmmaker husband; and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a lesbian who works out her stand-up routines in sparsely populated bars on open-mike nights.
Steve Coogan is Liz's pompous (and British) spouse. Rashida Jones is Natalie's bow-tied and bespectacled partner (she's very funny). And Adam Scott is Miranda's handy and sympathetic neighbor. All of them, for better but mostly for worse, have run-ins with Ned.
Our Idiot Brother isn't scripted as sharply as it could have been. And while this hugely likable cast is, indeed, hugely likable, no one's sweating things at all. The comedy's relaxed, moony rhythms imbue it with a certain charm, but can result in a certain stop-and-start awkwardness, too.
Our Idiot Brother wraps things up too neatly, and too cutely. It's as if Ned's niceness bled onto the screen itself, creating a rosy resolution when something a little less affirming may have been in order. But that's a cruel and cynical response on my part, to be sure.
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/