The title character of “Our Idiot Brother” is an organic farmer so naive that he sells pot to a uniformed cop who tells him it’s for his personal use.
Ned, engagingly played by a hairy Paul Rudd, relies on the honesty of relatives, friends and strangers, an upbeat outlook that often backfires in this scruffy comedy that tries a little too hard to be lovable.
Ned’s three sisters -- Liz (Emily Mortimer), an upscale mom married to an obnoxious filmmaker (Steve Coogan); Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), an ambitious magazine writer; and Natalie (Zooey Deschanel), a free spirit who lives with a lesbian lawyer (Rashida Jones) -- all consider him a harmless goofball stuck in perpetual adolescence.
After serving time in jail for his drug offense, Ned finds out that his girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn) has a new man in her life and doesn’t want him hanging around the farm anymore. So he heads back to his childhood home on Long Island, where he’s welcomed by his doting mom (Shirley Knight).
Ned soon pokes his nose into his sisters’ personal lives and, with his childlike candor, causes them much grief.
The sibling relationships come naturally for the filmmakers: “Our Idiot Brother” was directed by Jesse Peretz and co-written by his sister, Evgenia Peretz, and her husband, David Schisgall.
Yet the most poignant relationship in the movie is between Ned and his beloved golden retriever, Willie Nelson.
His ex has custody of the dog and won’t even let Ned visit him. Ned eventually figures out a way to reunite with the pooch, proving he’s not such a dummy after all.
“Our Idiot Brother,” from the Weinstein Co., is playing across the U.S. Rating: **
While the time shift changes the clothing and hairstyles, it doesn’t alter the noirish atmosphere of the story about a scar-faced teenage gangster, the guileless young waitress who marries him and the older woman who tries to protect her.
Writer/director Rowan Joffe captures the bleak seaside world of small-time crooks. And Helen Mirren is splendid as Ida, the fearless redhead who tries to convince waitress Rose (Andrea Riseborough) that her diabolical husband Pinkie (Sam Riley) is using her as an alibi for murder.
However, Joffe can’t sustain the suspense of the book or match the electricity of the eponymous 1947 film starring Richard Attenborough as Pinkie. He also sticks with the original movie’s famous ending, featuring a skipping phonograph, rather than the book’s darker, more fitting finale.
Vera Farmiga makes her directing debut with “Higher Ground,” playing a devout family woman who ends up questioning the strict rules of her fundamentalist community.
The film’s serious treatment of religion is both surprising and commendable. Another plus is Farmiga’s heartfelt performance as Corinne, who is chafed by her suffocating marriage to a pious former rock-band leader (Boyd Holbrook) she met in high school. (The teenage Corinne is played by Farmiga’s younger lookalike sister, Taissa.)
“Higher Ground” is almost too solemn, though. Except for the occasional humor provided by Corinne’s best friend Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk), a radiant soul who covers her walls with drawings of her husband’s penis, the film has an almost funereal tone.
The story isn’t pro- or anti-religion. It’s an exploration of spirituality and the profound impact it has on so many people.
“Higher Ground,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **1/2
‘The Family Tree’
Bunnie, the matriarch of the dysfunctional clan in “The Family Tree,” suffers amnesia following an accident that occurs while she’s having sex with her neighbor. She can’t remember anything about her lousy marriage, her resentful teenage twins or her controlling mother-in-law.
I wish I could forget this disastrous black comedy, whose potpourri of quirky characters includes a gun-toting priest, a handicapped lesbian and a punk student with a porcupine hairdo.
Vivi Friedman’s film takes place in suburban Serenity, Ohio, which gives you an idea of how subtle the humor is. The rambling story is like a bad imitation of TV’s “Weeds,” whose eccentric family is actually funny and interesting.
Even with actors like Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Keith Carradine and Jane Seymour, this tree never blossoms.
“The Family Tree,” from Entertainment One, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.