By Sarah-Jane Murray, Contributing Writer
Although I’m not a huge fan of OUR IDIOT BROTHER (see the MOVIEGUIDE ® review here), I did walk into the August 7 press conference at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills with an open mind, hoping to be inspired, eager to understand why the movie’s worldview tended towards the nihilistic, and ready to consider the low-budget indie that garnered a good deal of attention at Sundance this year in a new light.
Sadly, I got more than I bargained for.
I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was going to jump out of nowhere and tell me it was a setup. There I was, along with photographer and MOVIEGUIDE® contributor Tyler Walton, right in the midst of the circus, witnessing members of the press and movie stars misbehaving.
It all started before the actors and director arrived, as the PR rep in charge of the event shared with us, in a most professional manner, some ground rules. Before she could finish her request to hold photography to a minimum, a self-aggrandized journalist in a suit stood up and proclaimed to the room “F*** cameras! No, I’m serious. A picture is only worth two words.”
I understand that photography at these events can sometimes be overwhelming, even distracting, but there was no need to subject us all to a slew of invectives at 11:45AM. I think our photographer sunk a little deeper into his chair.
Saved by the arrival of the cast.
When asked how he went about creating a genuine family atmosphere on set, director Jesse Peretz explained that a lot of cast members were already friends. The low budget added to group bonding, as stars didn’t have individual trailers to which they could escape in between scenes. Everyone spent a good deal of time together and “really enjoyed each other,” he concluded.
Paul Rudd praised Peretz, with whom he said he was eager to work again. Other members of the cast agreed that the story of OUR IDIOT BROTHER, a.k.a. the perennially upbeat biodynamic and hippie farmer Ned, had universal appeal. Elizabeth Banks felt an autobiographical connection to the story, joking – we hope – that she has a “26-year-old brother who sells pizza. . . and maybe a little something extra on the side.” When asked what one might expect from the DVD extras, Banks enthusiastically replied “a lot more p*nis!” and, judging by the widespread laughter, more than one journalist was entertained.
In the midst of questions about hair, deodorant, the hippie lifestyle, and what the ideal world looks like, I decided to ask the women of the cast present – Banks, Emily Mortimer, Rashida Jones, and Kathryn Hahn – about their roles in the movie. OUR IDIOT BROTHER centers on Ned, but the women, and the varying degrees of dysfunction in their lives, really drive the plot. I couldn’t help but wonder what they learned from their roles and hoped audiences would take away from the movie?
After a few gasps and an awkward silence, Emily Mortimer stepped up to the plate. (I considered the question a soft ball, especially for Harvard grad Rashida Jones, but apparently questions of substance – other than the illegal kind – were not in vogue at this particular press conference.)
“They’re no more confused and f***ed up and lost than we all are,” Emily said. “Particularly my character. You’re catching her at a moment in her life where she’s vulnerable but she’s not lost. . . . I don’t feel like it’s any sadder than what we’re all going through every day. Ultimately, if you put your faith in humanity and optimism, you might be alright in the end.”
While I appreciate Mortimer’s willingness to field the question and answer in a meaningful way, I was dumbstruck by her response – and in many ways still am. Mortimer plays Liz, who, after giving birth to a baby girl, strives to regain her husband’s attention as he sleeps around with a ballerina. When she breaks to Liz the news of her husband’s infidelity, her sister Miranda (played by Banks) suggests that his wandering eye is in some part Liz’s fault. She used to be “hot” and now, she’s not.
It hit me: Mortimer buys into the brokenness inherent to the movie’s worldview. Although I can’t speak for them, judging by their nods and affirmations, other members of the cast agree. At the very least, they didn’t feel compelled enough to speak up and offer an alternative point of view.
Yes, we live in a broken world. Yes, at times we, too, are broken and confused and lost.
The good news is that we don’t have to be.
I don’t say that out of some kind of naïveté or because I’ve lived a completely sheltered life. I’ve been blessed with a supportive family and friends but have suffered through a difficult divorce, infidelity, and a whole lot of lies. At every step of the way, I’ve clung to the fact that in this life, we see only through a glass dimly. Placing faith in humanity and optimism will inevitably fail. We can’t fix the world by ourselves. Moreover, we were never meant to do so. Only through Grace can we one day see face to face.