You can’t really make a bad movie with Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Rashida Jones, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, and Steve Coogan. They are seven of the most able and appealing performers of our era. But it turns out that does not necessarily guarantee a good movie, either. The actors have a lot more fun than the audience in this light but strange tale of a man whose irrepressibly sunny and guileless nature makes his angsty sisters frustrated, angry, and then, inexplicably refreshed.
Rudd plays Ned, a leftover hippie who grows organic produce with his girlfriend (Hahn). By inclination and by choice he expects the best intentions from everyone. So, he gives a stranger on the subway some cash to hold onto while he organizes his things. And when a uniformed cop asks him for some marijuana, he hands it over. That one results in some jail time, and when he returns, he finds he has lost his girlfriend, his home, and his dog, Willie Nelson. So, he goes back home, where he briefly stays with his mother and then each of his sisters, creating chaos at every stop.
Liz (Mortimer) is married to a snobbish and self-centered documentary filmmaker (Coogan) and they have two children. Liz is passionate about providing a cloyingly wholesome environment for her children (they are named River and Echo) and has not noticed that her husband is having an affair with the subject of his latest film. Ned breaks River’s finger and, worse, messes up his crucial admissions interview for a tony private school.
He also disrupts the lives of the ambitious Miranda (Banks) who works at Vanity Fair, thwarting her big break by refusing to let her print a story told to him in confidence by a socialite, and flighty Natalie (Deschanel), by revealing to her girlfriend (Jones) that Natalie has been unfaithful with a man and is pregnant.
Jesse Peretz (son of former Harvard professor and New Republic publisher Marty Peretz) directed, from a screenplay by his sister, Evgenia Peretz, a writer for Vanity Fair, and her husband David Schisgall, a documentary filmmaker who has worked with Errol Morris. Given the sibling bond on and off-screen it is especially disconcerting that there is no sense of the chemistry between family members. These characters never show the kind of rhythms and short-cuts in communication that come from decades of shared experience or the affections and retro rivalries of adult family members. It would have been interesting to get a sense of what the family dynamic was like and how it produced characters do different in their priorities and strengths. The script feels more like a chart than a storyline, with each character selected to represent a different New York type. The actors have a lot of fun creating their characters but there is not one believable relationship between any of them, except perhaps Ned’s with the hippie who replaced him at the farm. Peretz never establishes a consistent tone and the reconciliation and appreciation at the end is forced and awkward.
Ned may be right about expecting the best from everyone, but as he learns in the film and we learn about the Peretzes, sometimes they let you down.
Parents should know that this film has constant very strong language, alcohol, marijuana growing, dealing, and smoking (character goes to prison for giving it to a policeman), and sexual references and situations including adultery and nudity.
Family discussion: Why are Ned and his siblings so different? What do Ned’s sisters learn from him? What do you think of Ned’s philosophy of expecting the best from people?
If you like this, try: “Role Models” and “I Love You, Man”