Our Idiot Brother: Family, Family, Family

Family is the source of so much drama, so much comedy, so many movies. 

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.”