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Family ties; Autobiographical elements part of 'Our Idiot Brother'

Director Jesse Peretz had an appropriate collaborator on his latest film, "Our Idiot Brother" -- his sister, Evgenia Peretz. Along with her husband, David Schisgall, they came up with the story about a nonconformist and his three sisters.

As to whether the comedy-drama, which stars Paul Rudd and opens today, is in any way autobiographical -- well, yes and no.

"Yeah, I'm the idiot brother," Peretz said with a laugh. "In the sense that everybody who is a brother is an idiot at one point or another. And there's little bits of autobiography all over the place."

Just as one of the characters in the film, Miranda, is a writer for Vanity Fair, so is Evgenia Peretz. But she and Jesse have no other siblings. Their father is New Republic columnist and former editor Martin Peretz.

Having a sister on the inside at Vanity Fair proved to be a lucky break, said Jesse Peretz, whose other films include "The Chateau" (2001) and "The Ex" (2006).

"On a tight budget, we were looking for a high-end magazine office location for the movie, and we weren't finding stuff that was nice enough," he said. "In our original script, Miranda was a fashion writer for W magazine. But W didn't want to take credit or responsibility for the character. Then we tried Elle" -- which didn't work out, either.

"So we inquired about whether Vanity Fair would be willing to let us shoot there, if we kept it kind of discreet and our footprint kind of small."

Graydon Carter, the magazine's editor, agreed to filming on the condition that Miranda's ethics were brought in line with journalistic standards, Peretz said.

"Our Idiot Brother" traces the social evolution of Ned (Rudd), an extremely laid-back fellow who might remind some moviegoers of the Dude from the Coen Brothers classic "The Big Lebowski." Ned takes people at their word and expects them to deal with him honestly -- an approach to life that prompts various levels of disdain from his sisters Miranda (Elizabeth Banks), Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and Liz (Emily Mortimer).

Although the publicity for the film emphasizes its goofier aspects, it actually has quite a lot to say about the clash of values in modern America -- from the urge to go back to the land to the imperative to chase the dollar -- and how dealing with that reality can be at once exhilarating and exasperating. It's also about the struggle to find a place for yourself without sacrificing your individuality.

"Our Idiot Brother" is Peretz's second collaboration with Rudd, whom he met through a mutual friend, actor Donal Logue. Rudd starred in "The Chateau," which was an improvised comedy set in France.

"We just had such a good time making that movie, and it made me want to work with him again," Peretz said. "Over the last 10 years, we've had a couple of false attempts. So when my sister and I, and her husband, started working on this script, one of the first ideas that we had was, 'Let's write something that we can do with Paul Rudd.' "

The scraggly but inscrutable Ned is something of a departure for Rudd, who is best known for playing guy-next-door types in comedies such as "How Do You Know."

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