Dir. Jesse Peretz
Over the years, Paul Rudd has offered up several comic incarnations: He's played the downtrodden everyman (I Love You Man), the narcissistic careerist (Dinner for Schmucks), the loyal friend (Anchorman) and, of course, the sweet cutie-pie love interest (Clueless), but the commonality of all of them is his good nature. He might not have the people skills of Tom Hanks or the frenetic bonhomie of Steve Carell, but he never seems to play a character than can willfully crosses himself into the darker reaches of his soul.
Which would make his new film something of a perfect vehicle. He plays Ned, a hippie organic farmer living in upstate New York (with a full beard and long scraggly locks, Rudd has adopted what you might call the full Jim James effect) who runs afoul of the law and spends a stint in prison only to find his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), has dumped him and taken his dog, when he finally gets sprung. With nowhere else to go, he travels downstate to the Long Island home where his mother (Shirley Knight) still lives and spends time staying with his three troubled sisters. First, there's Miranda (Elizabeth Banks) a career-minded journalist with "Vanity Fair," attempting to make her name by any means necessary; then, there's Liz (Emily Moritmer), married to a dipstick of a philandering husband (Steve Coogan), who may or may not be having an affair with the subject of his latest documentary film; and finally Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) a sexually open-minded type in a long-term relationship with Cindy (Rashida Jones, who for some reason dresses in Angus Young shorts-and-ties and Urkel glasses), who nevertheless has a brief fling with a male artist which ends up getting her pregnant.
The sisters all view their brother as a sweet-minded moron, someone you have to tolerate rather than embrace, so, naturally, he spends a good deal of the film inadvertently spilling their respective secrets and forcing them to confront the various duplicities in their lives. The riff is reminiscent of Boudu Saved From Drowning (and the subsequent American remake, Down and Out in Beverly Hills) with a gruff outsider forcing a well-to-do family to truly face each other, but rather than social satire, Jesse Peretz' film is going for genteel laughs, which naturally has much less of a bite. Still, Ned's sunny philosophy ("If you put trust out there … people will rise to the occasion") certainly makes for an affable frontman, and the film's tactical restraint (just when you think Ned's sweet honesty will earn him a shot with a fabulously wealthy playgirl, she shoots him down) works to keep things from veering into pure Hollywood-land. It all ends entirely too pat, of course, without any character actually having to suffer overtly for their sins, but it's hard to begrudge Ned a little joy. And the reuniting with his dog.