Paul Rudd isn't generally known for being in "movies with a message" (although Clueless is one of the most profound movies of the 90s), but as Ned, the overly trusting hero of Our Idiot Brother, he charts new territory in his film career. With a strong supporting cast that includes Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, and Rashida Jones, Rudd brings his own brand of feminine masculinity to the role.
Opening with Ned walking right into the trap of a police officer who seems desperate to make his quota of arrests, screenwriters David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz (incidentally the sister of Our Idiot Brother's director, Jesse Peretz) establish the dopey and somewhat hebetudinous nature of Ned. Although most people would be a bit more concerned about being arrested for selling marijuana, the only thing bothering Ned is who will take care of his dog, Willie Nelson.
Unfortunately, the answer to the question of who will look after the beloved animal is discovered eight months later when Ned gets out of prison. To Ned's shock, his girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn), has not only started "dating" someone else (as much as someone with dreads, a pot penchant, and who grows vegetables on a remote farm can really date), but she has also made a point of taking sole ownership over Willie Nelson. With no intention of letting Ned take the dog back or continue to live on her property, he is left with nowhere else to go except his mother's house in Long Island.
His infinitely more conventionally successful sisters, Liz (Mortimer), Natalie (Deschanel), and Miranda (Banks) reunite with Ned over dinner, each with their own take on what Ned's next plan of action will be. Ned's only real goal is to save up five hundred dollars so he can rent the goat barn on Janet's farm and be with Willie Nelson. Natalie suggests that they all chip in to help him, but Liz, influenced by the presence of her husband, Dylan (Steve Coogan, who seems like a random choice for the role), insists that it would be better if Ned earned the money.
Ned, however, isn't the most employable of people, relying on the odd jobs--and shelter--given to him by his sisters, ultimately resulting in several career and relationship catastrophes due to Ned's simpleton and gabbing ways. In fact, because of Ned, Miranda's career-making article for Vanity Fair is shelved and her friendship with her downstairs neighbor, Jeremy (Adam Scott) is jeopardized, Liz finds out that Dylan is cheating on her, and Cindy (Jones), Natalie's girlfriend, finds out that she is pregnant with another man's child (which is obviously quite an affront to a lesbianic rapport).
Even so, what each of his sisters comes to realize is that Ned has taught them something valuable about how to live their lives. For Miranda, it is to stop being so controlling and to let go every now and then, for Natalie, it is to use honesty more often in her dealings with Cindy, and, for Liz, it is to loosen the reins on how she raises her children and to forget about what she expected her life to be like. And so, what Our Idiot Brother really attempts to convey is that not enough importance is place on loving whole-heartedly and unconditionally. Stipulations must always be put on how we choose to love or accept people. If it weren't for the sappy way in which this is communicated throughout the film, the message might seem more palatable.