When “Our Idiot Brother” was released this summer it kind of fell by the wayside. The tale of an easygoing hippie pot dealer (wonderfully embodied by Paul Rudd) who meddles in the lives of his urbanite sisters (played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer), was smooth, unfussy, and while rated R, didn’t traffic in the kind of bawdy outrageousness that the other summer comedies did. Its relatively small business was a shame, because the movie was perfectly charming; a light, breezy antidote to all the big budget relentlessness. With the movie hitting DVD and BluRay this week, we talked to Jesse Peretz, a founding member of influential indie rock band The Lemonheads who went on to direct commercials, music videos, and now feature films. We spoke about the development of the project, the long road from Sundance to the local cineplex, and what happens when the Weinsteins pick up your formerly little independent project.
“Our Idiot Brother,” he says, was born out of working on a different and much more difficult script with his sister Evgenia Peretz. When that fell apart, they started thinking about another, easier story – one that people would actually go see. “The first idea was, lets develop something with a main character that we can get Paul [Rudd] to play,” Peretz said. The two had a long history together. “Paul and I did a movie called ‘The Chateau’ ten years ago together and we had such a great time making that movie.” In the ten years since “The Chateau,” nabbing Paul Rudd became an imperative.
“All I wanted to do was have another opportunity to work with him,” Peretz said. The development of the titular idiot brother, a hippie pot farmer named Ned Rocklan, also started more loosely. “We had started coming up with ideas and we settled on a kind of hippie farmer,” Peretz explained. “And we wanted to do something about the complexities of adult sibling relationships.” But things really started to click when Peretz had dinner with a guy namd Jesse (“the brother of one of my best friends”), who was a medical marijuana farmer in Marin County who had gotten into trouble with the law, and as part of his plea joined a Franciscan monastery in Oakland. “I went out to dinner with him and I instantly fell in love with this dude,” Peretz said.
He described Jesse as, “This bearded dude in a brown robe was the least judgmental, least cynical person that I have ever hung out with.” It was then that things about the character started to solidify and slide into place. “At that point, having dinner with this guy – this light bulb went off and I totally knew who Paul’s character was going to be,” Peretz said, definitively. “That evening was a really important part of finding out what the story was.”
Of course the other big part of bringing a character as unique and offbeat as Ned to the big screen was the input of its star, Paul Rudd. “Paul is the perfect guy to bring this character to life,” Peretz said. “It was really important to Paul to never go for a jokey broad stupid thing without having a clear emotional rationale.” The two personalities had a lot in common, at least according to Petetz: “I just think there’s something inherently like Paul in this character, not the naiveté but the general goodness of the character, is really true to who Paul is. We were really trying to make the audience fall in love with this guy.” Anyone who has seen the movie can tell you that this character is really oddly compelling and loving, so Ned wasn’t much of a stretch at all.
The Weinsteins picked up the film at Sundance and release it about eight months later, aside from the alteration of the title (from “My Idiot Brother” to “Our Idiot Brother,” which makes a lot of sense, actually), Peretz says it was a pretty idyllic relationship.
“We were really super pleased with what we brought to Sundance and I was over the moon happy to what the response was at Sundance. But there were a couple of things that didn’t turn out the way we wanted,” Peretz explained.
The Weinsteins, in turn, let him correct what he had wanted to do. “There was a script we gave to our producers before we started shooting it, and what the Weinsteins did was gave us an opportunity to go back to that script,” Peretz said. The main crux of the matter was what both he and Harvey Weinstein felt was an overtly convoluted and emotionally leaden finale. For a man who is often portrayed as a bogeyman, tampering with the filmmakers vision, Peretz makes him sound more like a fairy godmother.
“When I got into conversations with Harvey Weinstein, we talked about how the script had been,” Peretz said. “He asked, ‘Was there anything you would have liked to have done differently?’ It dovetailed with me feeling that we had shot the ending how we had originally scripted. So he gave us the opportunity to shoot the ending the way it was in the original script.”
As for the future, Peretz said, “I’ve got a bunch of things I’m working on and one thing we’re waiting for is an actress to decide, but I can’t talk about it yet.” He could be very busy very soon though. “We have something we may shoot this spring,” he teased. One thing that you can bet on is for Rudd and Peretz to reteam in the not-too-distant future. “Today I’m going to talk to him about something,” Peretz said. “We don’t have anything like a script but we’d like to work on something again. It may not be the next movie but he’s one of my favorite actors out there.”
And if Rudd isn’t already one of your favorite actors out there, then his lovable performance in “Our Idiot Brother” will certainly make that so. It’s out on DVD and BluRay now.