There are certain movies that can only be rightfully called "gentle". Our Idiot Brother is one of those movies. There are also certain movies that are so gentle that it doesn't seem that they'd crack if you breathed on them too heavily. Our Idiot Brother is one of those movies, as well.

The conceit is pure American Indie Comedy 101 boilerplate: somewhere in upstate New York lives a beatifically peaceful neo-hippie organic farmer called Ned (Paul Rudd). He's the sort of unfailingly generous fellow who always wants to believe the absolute best about everybody he meets, and that's what gets him into trouble when he sells marijuana to an in-uniform policeman, believing the cop's sob story after only a moment's hesitation that what he's about to do is completely stupid.

Incidentally, the way that this situation is presented, any halfwit lawyer in the country would be able to get Ned off on entrapment grounds, and this fact haunted me throughout the rest of the movie's tidy 90 minute running time. A nitpick, one might say, and yet it's a nitpick about the event that sets up the whole rest of the movie, which is never a good sign. Also, it's usually the case that if a film is unable to distract the viewer enough to dislodge something as fleeting as that kind of complaint, the filmmakers are doing something wrong.

Moving right along, Ned eventually gets released early, for good behavior, only to find that his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), the owner of the organic commune where he's been living, has taken up with a new lover (T.J. Miller), and refuses to let Ned stay, or to take with him his precious golden retriever, Willie Nelson. Not knowing where else to turn, Ned heads into the city to be with his family: living first with his mother (Shirley Knight), and then progressing Lear-like through the homes of his three sisters: Liz (Emily Mortimer), with her emotionally icy husband (Steve Coogan) and overprotected son (Matthew Mindler); Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), with a high-pressure publishing job that requires her to be a bitch to everyone she cares for, especially her cute neighbor Jeremy (Adam Scott); and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), whose relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones) is entering a terrifying level of bored, prosaic comfort. Ned roles into each of these lives with the genial force of a stoned hurricane, ruining everything - but aha! Does he in fact ruin everything, or by apparently ruining everything, is he not in fact making his sisters re-evaluate what they find most valuable in life and find that they are sacrificing happiness? Of course he fucking does, because this is a light comedy from out of Sundance.

The film's genesis is a splotch of soppy family ties that recalls the finished product: it was conceived by siblings Jesse and Evgenia Peretz, and directed by Jesse from a script that Evgenia wrote with her husband David Schisgall. Not a one among them has any significant experience in film - Peretz frรจre has directed a few odds & ends, Schisgall has logged time as an assistant to Errol Morris - and the film they've put together feels an awful lot like what you get when people who don't know exactly what they're doing are given a camera and access to filming permits to make a film that - you might want to sit down - takes place inside suspiciously large hipster apartments littered throughout NYC.

An indie film comme un autre, then except with just enough wrinkles that it doesn't seem completely familiar: the characters are blissfully free of Wes Anderson-style quirks, for a start, and the filmmakers are quick to present their little particularities as mere incidental details that all the other characters have gotten used to enough that they don't bother commenting on it anymore (though the filmmakers are slightly too eager that we notice just how much they're not making a big deal about the lesbian subplot). They're also all predominately grown-up and quite cozy in their own lives, which is probably the biggest single innovation Our Idiot Brother has to offer: thirtysomethings feeling their way around the difficulties of urban life and relationships, rather than the usual mopey twentysomethings. Yes, innovation should probably have been in scare quotes.

The biggest thing of all that the film has on its side is a colossally well-assembled cast, of course. Rudd, Deschanel, Coogan, Jones - all names that any indie filmmaker would dearly love to have on hand, and I'm sure they helped grease the wheels for the Sundance debut as well. Which is, frankly the most that the bulk of them did, coasting through the easy characterisations of a well-intentioned, hellaciously undemanding screenplay. Deschanel is all big-eyed and flustery, Coogan drops into just a couple of scenes to be the asshole Brit, Banks is just plain out to sea, managing only to hit the bitchy career woman notes of her character and fail entirely to show us the feeling woman underneath. Of the supporting cast, only Jones really gives something back to the movie, playing a quietly self-amused women annoyed and fascinated by the busy life around her, using a ridiculous pair of giant '80s glasses as a most effective prop to create a character with a much wryer sensibility than she lets on.

But it's all ultimately the Paul Rudd show anyway, which is why Our Idiot Brother ends up being enjoyable in a sleepy sort of way, despite itself. The role was written around the actor, and he's kind of perfect for it: never playing down to the mocking elements of the screenplay, and not overselling the expected "he's not an idiot, he's just a naรฏve idealist!" moments. There are all sorts of ways Ned could be played that would insult himself and us, but Rudd avoids them all, for the most part, finding a way to inhabit the unforced, relaxed tone that the movie wants to much to wear all over.

That's not much to recommend a film, and Our Idiot Brother is nothing if not inconsequential; its observations about modern life pithy and completely obvious, its characters "real enough" rather than actually "real"; but at least it doesn't wallow in sincerity or irony, the twin banes of American indie film. It's just pleasant, as good and bad as that sounds.

6/10