When a Sibling Goes to Pot


He is heavy; he's their "Idiot Brother."

The Rochlin sisters have a burden to bear in their cannabis-is-us, honest-to-a-fault, good-natured Deadhead of a brother, Ned, who'd give pot as a present to a cop if he thought the man in blue needed some ganga green uplift.

Which is what he actually does, getting eight months in the slammer for his good samaritan high-five.

And now that he's out and on probation, which sister is to take in this frizzy Forrest Gump dumped by bumps in the night that he's ill-suited for? When a sibling/son goes to pot, who is placed in the role of weed control?

"Our Idiot Brother" opens in the area Aug. 26.

We are family, notes director Jesse Peretz — he and sister Evgenia conceived the story and she and her husband, David Schisgall, co-wrote the script — but not this family. And Jesse, jests his sister, is no idiot brother — "although he definitely has his moments."

This may be one of them — the good kind, however, as Jesse's good buddy, actor Paul Rudd, puts a goofy gift of a spin on Ned, the American idle who proves that stupid is as stupid does.

Maybe, maybe not. For Ned ultimately may be the wisest among the smart alecs he hangs out with, a simple guy but not a simpleton, finding more meaning in life than his smarter but more complicated sisters.

Do the movie makers make an honest man out of Ned? No, he was one already: "You could say the film shows that honesty is the best policy — but I don't know if it's the most effective," smiles Evgenia, noting Ned's truth-or-dare-to-be-damned dimension.

He's the type to fast on Yom Kippur and keep on going because nobody told him the holiday was over. So, pass the seder plate for a collection of emotional support; there's a Ned in every family, aver the two.

In every Jewish family? "Originally, the script was written with the family being Jewish," says Jesse, with Evgenia adding that the role of the mother "is loosely based on my mother-in-law," with the character "supposed to be loud, opinionated."

That Jewish mother made the earth move — until she became an earth mother-type with the casting of definitely un-Jewish Shirley Knight.

Instead, the Rochlins rock as somewhere between WASPish and loudish. Not that there wasn't a Jewish element added, anyway. "We had a bris in the movie," Evgenia notes of a scene in which gay lovers portrayed by Zooey Deschanel and Rashida Jones have a son, with an actual mohel hired for the role. Alas, adds Evgenia, the mohel's scene didn't survive the final cut. "Maybe it'll be on the DVD," she adds.

Certainly the Peretzes know from Jewish. Peretz père is Marty Peretz, the ardently pro-Israel supporter who published the New Republic and, after many years at the editorial helm, now serves as editor emeritus.

Dad merits his own movie for a life of hot oratory and flame-throwing journalistic javelins that prompted writer Benjamin Wallace-Wells to well up in anger in a bout of pistol-packing phraseology in last December's New York Magazine: "Peretz is a born belligerent. He was anti-Stalin by the age of 7; spent half a century defending a controversial brand of Zionism in the obscure, fratricidal fights of the ideological left; and retains a decisive eye for an enemy. His extraordinary capacity for charm is matched by an extraordinary capacity for anger," he wrote of the writer whose ancestry includes Yiddish author I. L. Peretz.

In the name of the father, it should be noted that ne'er-do-well Ned — who really doesn't do too well on his own — is not the kind of liberal Marty might like for a son, too off-the-wall for offspring, kibitzes Jesse.

Would the intense and certifiably serious dad like what his real son and daughter have concocted on screen, their second collaboration and Jesse's fourth movie? "He's seen it and loved it," says Evgenia, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair. "My father has a great sense of humor; he likes sweet movies."

Well, this is the Manischewitz of summer movies — with maybe a twist of lemon? (Jesse helped found the rock group the Lemonheads 25 years ago and later earned a Grammy Award for Video of the Year, directing the Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly.")

Jesse and Evgenia seem to be flying now after a smash showing in Park City earlier this year; they are doing a Sundance themselves for this weekend's release.

In one of the scenes, a game of charades silently points a finger at the sisters for being disengaged from what really matters. Is life a charade?

The Peretz siblings look a little uncomfortable in looking for subtext in the text; this is not a message movie, they warn.

Got the message. But maybe, just maybe, there is somewhat of one after all? That ultimately, the family that fights together, stays together?

No diss on dysfunction, confides Jesse. "I feel every family is a dysfunctional family."


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