Our Idiot Brother

Janet Montgomery and Paul Rudd in Our Idiot Brother

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

1 April

April Fool’s Day

In many countries, today is April Fool’s Day. It’s unclear where this day – nowadays often dedicated to the playing of practical jokes – has its origin, though there was a medieval Feast of Fools (28 December) and a Roman festival of Hilaria (25 March).
It is also possible that the old custom of celebrating the new year on 25 March (the weeklong holiday would end on 1 April) is involved somehow. Another theory sees Persia as the source of April Fool’s Day, the Sizdah Bedar tradition of going out and having fun on 1 April going back as far as 536BC.

Our Idiot Brother (2011, dir: Jesse Peretz)

The idea that there is something about the fool, the idiot, that we can all learn from is the motivating idea behind a film that looks for all the world like it was expected to do great things. It didn’t, but that doesn’t make Paul Rudd’s performance any less enjoyable.

Rudd plays Ned, the amiable hippie goof who is so dumb he’ll sell marijuana to a uniformed cop, because the cop asked him nicely. Ned finds it hard to operate in this world of half-truths, nods and winks. He is totally gullible, without guile. He’s a lovely guy. But he’s clearly a liability, which is why his parole officer speaks to him so slowly – anyone who sells grass to someone they know is a cop must be a fool, right?

Not entirely. There’s a Being There quality to director Jesse Peretz’s film and there’s a Chauncey Gardner (Ned is indeed an organic smallholder) aspect to Rudd’s Ned, though Peter Sellers’s last film clearly isn’t being used as a complete blueprint. Nor is Ned’s wide-eyed naivety used as a satirical light to expose the bullshit of others. This is a comedy about human foibles not villainy and as Ned bumbles around in the lives of his three sisters (Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer) and the men in their lives (Adam Scott, Steve Coogan, Hugh Dancy) his honest intentions, inability to remember what the lie was that he’s meant to be telling and social gaucheness have the sort of effect that actually only happens in films.

Yes, that’s a good cast, which is why it seems likely that better things were expected. And they’re all capable of handling the improvisational approach that Peretz has settled on. And there are jokes, often at the expense of the men (Coogan is a particularly enjoyable rotter), as Rudd’s Ned makes a mess of everything he touches, and in doing so makes everything actually quite a lot better.

Why Watch?

  • Rudd’s warm and wonderful performance
  • Great ensemble performances by a talented cast
  • Shirley Knight as the materfamilias
  • There’s a dog in it called Willie Nelson

© Steve Morrissey 2014

Our Idiot Brother – at Amazon

500 Days of Summer

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

23 December

 

 

Carla Bruni born, 1967

On this day in 1967, Carla Gilberta Bruni Tedeschi was born in Turin, Italy. The daughter of a concert pianist and a composer, and the grand-daughter of Virginio Bruni Tedeschi, founder of CEAT tyres, Carla grew up in France, where her family moved to escape threats from the Red Brigades, the terrorist group active in 1970s Italy. She studied art and architecture and became a model at 19, going on to become one of the highest paid in the business. In 1997 she abandoned modelling to devote herself to music. Her first album, Quelqu’un M’a Dit, came out in 2003 and was generally well received. She has produced a further three albums since, which are mostly filled with the sort of songs that you would expect of a supermodel – slinky, cool and sexy. In 2008 she married Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then the president of France. Her sister is the actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi.

 

 

 

500 Days of Summer (2009, dir: Marc Webb)

Carla Bruni turns up on the soundtrack of this flyaway romance with a twist. The twist being that boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, but girl doesn’t fall in love with boy. What we then watch is the hapless, lovelorn Tom beating himself up over the girl, Summer, for the 500 days that they are “together”. So what’s so great about watching a story about failed love? Well, for starters it’s unusual. Then there’s the structure of the thing, director Marc Webb zipping us back and forward in the chronology (day 283 back to day 4 forward to day 300 and so on). Then there’s the fact that we see it all entirely through his eyes – so we’re hanging on with Tom as his hopes are raised and dashed, then dashed again. And when he’s up, he’s really up – the world comes alive, he is literally dancing in the street and a cartoon bird lands on his shoulder. That cuteness is reflected in the casting, the babyfaced Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing Tom, Zooey Deschanel (who better?), playing the dizzy Summer. If there is a criticism about this ever-so-charming film, it’s that the character of Summer is never quite explained – why is she stringing this poor guy along? Is she a bitch? We never quite know. But then we are seeing things entirely from Tom’s perspective and it’s possible that we can’t know because he refuses to open his eyes. Other big pluses include the fact that Tom and Summer are intelligent, interesting and cultured people, the film nods to the shoegazing world of mumblecore without being overwhelmed by its self-obsession. And it’s got one of those soundtracks (including The Boy with the Arab Strap, Regina Spektor, Frank Black, Penguin Cafe Orchestra) which has obviously been put together by someone who knows their stuff. Marc Webb went on to direct 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, and turned it into a drama about love’s young dream too.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • All films featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt are worth a look
  • The great, and well chosen, soundtrack
  • It’s based on the writer’s Scott Neustadter’s real experience
  • A film unafraid to reference Bergman and Fellini, humorously

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

500 Days of Summer – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Bridge to Terabithia

Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb in Bridge to Terabithia

 

 

Walden Media are the Christian folk who believe in films with tone, uplift and a bright message. They brought us the dreary Narnia film, you might remember, and are at it again with this resolutely nice adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s book about a picked-on schoolboy Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) who discovers the key to beating his fears after new girl in town Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) introduces him to the power of imagination. And as in Narnia, there’s a definite class component in Terabithia. Jesse is a blue-collar boy and Leslie’s parents are writers, which reinforces one of the tacit assumptions of nearly all imaginative literature and drama – the life of the mind is only for the well spoken. That said, I’m not sure what Walden are hoping to achieve by making a film telling us that it’s our minds that make the best pictures – they’re a movie production house, after all.

Tallying up the pluses and minues, Walden do come up with a lovely evocation of some of the simple joys of “race you to the end of the road” childhood and the film catches nicely the way young boys can fall badly for pretty female teachers (Zooey Deschanel in this case). It’s also strong on the disfiguring nastiness of bullying and the fact that the world of children exists almost invisibly right beneath the noses of adults. Debut director Gabor Csupo injects a bit of animation into the fabric of the film, as you might expect from someone who toiled long years on The Simpsons, though he never lets it gang up on the live action. On the downside Terabithia does contain some hideously drippy songs and the parents of Leslie are, in their sophisticated, aphoristic, coolly imaginative way, the sort of people you’d want to take out and shoot. At least in 13-year-old AnnaSophia Robb the film has a star. Give her five years and she’ll probably be the next Lindsay Lohan.

© Steve Morrissey 2007

 

Bridge to Terabithia – at Amazon