Family. The source of so much drama, so much comedy, so many movies. And in the case of the new comedy, OUR IDIOT BROTHER, the source of the film itself. The story of three tightly-wound sisters and the well-meaning brother who unintentionally wreaks havoc in their lives, OUR IDIOT BROTHER is a collaboration between director Jesse Peretz; his sister, Vanity Fair contributing editor Evgenia Peretz; and her husband, documentary filmmaker David Schisgall. The three developed the story together, and Evgenia Peretz and Schisgall co-wrote the screenplay.
OUR IDIOT BROTHER combines outlandish, yet realistic situations with playful observations about contemporary urban life. "We loved the idea of an ensemble movie about adult siblings," explains Evgenia Peretz. "And we wanted to write a movie about people our age, living in New York. The seed of the idea was imagining what would happen if a very open, laid-back brother came into the lives of three sisters who are all sort of Type-A personalities."
From that kernel came the story of the Rochlin siblings of Long Island: Liz, Miranda, Natalie and the only boy in the family, Ned. All the sisters have left the nest for different parts of New York City and are pursuing their various goals, be it family, a high-profile career or artistic expression. Says Jesse Peretz, "They're all on their own distinct paths, and each is a sort of classic Brooklyn or Manhattan type: the bright, driven West Village career woman; the eco-conscious, culturally sensitive Park Slope mom; the artsy Bushwick bohemian."
Ned has ambled in a different direction; he's never had a "real" job and is perfectly content to take each day as he finds it. He's spent the past three years on a small biodynamic farm with his girlfriend, Janet, and his canine BFF, a surpassingly mellow animal named Willie Nelson. He's less the black sheep of the family than its unfailingly upbeat different drummer. "Ned has clearly broken away from this family of smart but neurotic sisters," says director Peretz. "He's made the choice to live a life of less cynicism, to have more faith in people. He figures that even if people might be taking him for a ride, trusting them completely will challenge them to live up to a higher standard."
In a world that doesn't generally operate on good faith, Ned is bound to hit speed bumps - beginning with the uniformed cop who dupes him into committing a misdemeanor at the opening of the story, and continuing with his expulsion from the farm by his girlfriend, a drill sergeant in dreadlocks. Yet through all his troubles, Ned maintains his positive attitude. Neither childlike savant nor overgrown teenager, Ned is a simply a good-hearted person with an altruistic belief system - a kind of latter-day Jimmy Stewart in baggy shorts and a bushy beard. Remembers Schisgall, "We kept Frank Capra in mind when we were writing the screenplay,"
In imagining the personalities and lifestyles of Ned's three siblings, the filmmakers didn't have to look too far beyond their own backyards, as it were. "We all know so many type-A New Yorkers, like Ned's sisters, who crave something, are always out to achieve something, and are never really happy," says Evgenia Peretz. "What happens when someone comes along who has none of those goals, none of that suspicion and competitiveness, and is really happy? How do these characters react to that? That was a fun dynamic to play."
Ned's new involvement in his sisters' lives also presented juicy possibilities for sending up different aspects of the modern urban landscape, from cultish life-coaching seminars and open-mic nights in closet-sized clubs; to ultra-p.c. child-rearing protocols and charity events of the rich and famous. "We exaggerated some details, though maybe not as much as you might think," laughs Jesse Peretz. "The beauty of Ned is that whatever situation he's in, he's the same sweet, sincere guy who gets along with everybody. He never pretends to be someone he's not, to the occasional dismay of his sisters."
As they were conceiving and writing OUR IDIOT BROTHER, the creative brain trust had one actor in for the title role: Paul Rudd, who had worked with Jesse Peretz on THE CHATEAU and THE EX. The filmmakers wanted to give Ned a persona that was believable as well as humorous; with Rudd in mind, Ned became a character of depth and self-awareness and as well as affability and eccentricity. "A lot of the characterization came from knowing who we wanted the performer to be," allows Schisgall.
As sunny as Ned is, he faces his own moments of pain and doubt as he inadvertently causes pandemonium in his loved ones' lives. Peretz felt confident that Rudd would be at ease with the emotional themes of the story as well as its broad comedic elements. "I am a huge fan of Paul's ability to play comedy and drama and play them simultaneously," says the director. "Tonally, my favorite kinds of comedies are the ones that are coming out of a real, emotionally true place. And that's really his specialty."
With the screenplay completed, Jesse Peretz's first mission was to get a commitment from Rudd, a friend as well as a colleague. "For me, the key piece of making this movie happen was when I gave Paul the script to read, and for the first time in my entire friendship with him, somehow I got him to read it in 24 hours and say 'yes.'"
For Rudd, the decision was easy. "I read the script and thought it was really funny. But not just funny -- I really loved the drama in it. I thought Ned was an interesting, unusual character and would be fun to play," the actor says. "And it was Jesse directing it. He's one of my best friends and a great director. It was like, well, we get to shoot a movie this summer for six weeks in New York City. How cool is that?"
Surrounding Rudd in OUR IDIOT BROTHER is a first-rate ensemble of comedic actors that includes Elizabeth Banks; Emily Mortimer; Zooey Deschanel; Steve Coogan; Rashida Jones; Adam Scott; Shirley Knight; Hugh Dancy; Kathryn Hahn; Janet Montgomery; T.J. Miller; Sterling Brown; and the young Matthew Mindler.
"I lucked out in casting this movie," Peretz comments. "Everybody responded to the quality of script, and it all came together very quickly. I think one of the things we had going for us is we had a tremendous amount of respect among this group of actors. These are all smart, talented people, and very quick. And with all of them, they don't aim so much for the joke as the emotional reality."
Three respected independent producers teamed up to shepherd OUR IDIOT BROTHER to the screen, including Anthony Bregman, who produced THE EX for director Peretz and whose credits include ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND; and partners Peter Saraf and Marc Turtletaub, whose joint credits include LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Says Saraf, "We loved this idea of a character who comes through and radically changes people's lives. Ned goes from sister to sister to sister and wreaks havoc, but ultimately affects them all in a really positive way. It's almost a road movie that doesn't go on the road."
Ned's first stop after his mother's house is the Brooklyn brownstone of his sister Liz, played by Emily Mortimer. Liz and her family are part of the gentrifying wave that has turned Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood into a hotbed of organic food coops, mommy blogs, and farm-to-table restaurants. Liz seems the model of the purposeful, organized, enlightened New York mother, but as Mortimer notes, appearances deceive. "Liz and Dylan lead this sort of politically correct existence, where they don't eat any sugar and the baby is carried around in an eco-friendly sling. Liz does lots of yoga and is quietly going out of her mind," says the actress. "She's a mess, but she's disguising it with this very calm, kind of smug attitude that she picked up from her husband."
Ned's arrival at the Park Slope brownstone is not exactly welcomed by Dylan, played by Steve Coogan. "I think Dylan considers Ned a slacker, a waste of space," says Coogan. He describes his character as "a little pretentious and rather disparaging of Americans and American culture. Dylan's not a particularly unusual type; there are quite a lot of pretentious Brits on the East and West Coasts of America. Throw a stick, you'll hit a handful of them. I thought the character was quite funny."
In what will become a consistent, albeit accidental, pattern, Ned's habitual honesty and lack of calculation unleashes a chain of events that turn Liz's life upside-down and result in his expulsion from Park Slope. His next stop is the West Village apartment of Miranda, the Vanity Fair staff writer played by Elizabeth Banks. After paying her dues in the beauty and fashion trenches, Miranda has finally landed a prestige assignment, a profile of scandal-tainted Lady Arabella Galloway, portrayed by Janet Montgomery. But Arabella ends up being far more comfortable with Ned than Miranda, a development that imperils Miranda's big break, as well as her relationship with Ned.
Miranda's mainstays are her job and her friendship with her neighbor, Jeremy, played by Adam Scott. "Miranda's very urbane, very ambitious, and happily career-oriented at this point in her life," remarks Banks. "Funnily enough, this story is similar to my own personal life, in that I come from a family of three sisters and a baby brother. And I am the sort of quote-unquote glamorous sister with the fancy job in the big city. I have a middle sister who has two children and a baby sister who lives in Brooklyn and is, y'know, trying to find love. And then I have a baby brother who delivers pizzas and hangs out, like, going to keg parties and loving life. When I read this movie, I felt like I pretty much had to say yes!"
Natalie Rochlin, the youngest sister played by Deschanel, is perhaps closest to Ned in temperament. Natalie is still casting around for a creative outlet, and is making a tentative stab at stand-up comedy. After years of enthusiastic, equal opportunity bed-hopping, she has finally settled into a stable relationship with Cindy, the eminently likeable lawyer played by Rashida Jones. But the prospect of settling down is very unsettling to Natalie, and she's ambivalent about moving on from the Bushwick party house where she's had so much freewheeling fun. She's still got a roving eye, which lately has been caught by the painter played by Hugh Dancy. Says Deschanel, "Natalie's going through a bit of a transition in her life, and she's a little bit confused," says Deschanel. "Then Ned comes along, very sweet and guileless, and creates absolute chaos in her life."
Ultimately, the sticky situations that Liz, Miranda and Natalie suddenly confront have very little to do with Ned. But that doesn't stop them from blaming him, as Evgenia Peretz points out. "I've always been interested in the small ways people can behave in a self-destructive or ridiculous manner," she allows. "One of the truths we wanted to highlight in a comical way is the way in which people blame those closest to them for their own screw-ups in life. I think we all do that - I know I certainly have."
OUR IDIOT BROTHER filmed for 30 days in New York City in the summer of 2010. The production itself took on the aura of a family affair, in part because of the many pre-existing friendships among the cast and filmmakers. Those that didn't already know one another soon established a comfortable rapport.
Rudd gives director Peretz credit for creating a congenial, collaborative atmosphere in which improvisation came easily. "Jesse really encourages playing around with the scene and the lines and the action; whatever the mood in the room is that day, he facilitates it. And because he's a very good director, he never let any of us lose sight of what we were trying to convey in the scene," Rudd observes. "Jesse's a very brainy guy, but also very easygoing and very sweet. Everyone likes Jesse. He's got this horse laugh. If a horse could laugh, it would sound like Jesse."
All the cast members cite the scenes featuring the extended Rochlin family as highlights of the production. Marvels Rashida Jones, "It was just an amazing cast: Zooey, Paul, Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Steve Coogan, Shirley Knight … they're all hilarious and smart and totally diverse. So when everybody came together for the family scenes, it was like chaos - which was exactly the way it should have been, because that's what families are like."
Producer Anthony Bregman believes that many viewers, whether urban, rural or suburban, will find a reflection of themselves in the Rochlin family. "The story behind this movie is age-old," he points out. "You can go all the way back to Cain and Abel: Cain and Abel is essentially a story about the 'idiot brother.' The thing about 'idiot brothers' is they're not really idiots … they're just idiots."
Back to film page Home