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Cyrus (2010) ***

June 24, 2010

Written by: Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass
Produced by: Michael Costigan, Tony Scott and Ridley Scott
Directed by: Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass
Rated R for language and some sexual material
92 min
U.S. Release Date: June 18th, 2010 (limited); January 23, 2010 (Sundance Film Festival)

People in and out of the movie industry have been kicking the term “mumblecore” around for a while now. “Mumblecore” is a low-budget loosely-scripted style of film that demands a lot of improvisation to convey a more realistic and organic feel. The Duplass brothers’ latest creation — “Cyrus” — is another one of their films to fall into the genre. Starring an all-star quirk-troop featuring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, and Catherine Keener, “Cyrus” showcases what we love about certain actors (Reilly & Keener), and fresh new sides of others (Hill and Tomei). Coming off “Get Him to the Greek”, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, and “Superbad”, audiences everywhere have come to expect a certain type of performance from Jonah Hill — the title character in “Cyrus”. The marketing campaign preps potential viewers for a very mainstream non-stop comedy, but is that what the film really is?

The film begins with John (Reilly). John is at a all-time low when he finds out that his ex-wife Jamie (Keener) is getting remarried. While tail-spinning into depression, Jamie invites John to a “cool party” that she and her fiancee are going to over the weekend. Reluctantly, John goes along and is resolved to get a drunk as humanly possible. In his quest for extreme drunkenness, John stumbles upon Molly (Tomei), an attractive woman that seems smitten with him from the get go.

Maybe because John and Molly have such limited adult interaction otherwise, they take to each other very quickly and things start to get pretty serious. When a strange series of events brings John to Molly’s house for the first time, he meets Cyrus (Hill), Molly’s 21-year-old son that he did not yet know about. Upon learning that John and his mother are seeing each other, the young man seems very nice and cordial. However, there’s something about the way Cyrus looks at John that leaves him uneasy. It becomes clear that the 21-year-old has no intention of allowing his mom to date John, and will stop at nothing to break the two apart. What develops is a hilarious, sometimes serious, and even heart-warming plot line that shows three scarred characters learning to come together despite each others’ oddities and shortcomings.

First, on the term “mumblecore”, while I don’t necessarily subscribe to the terminology, I love the style and the naturalistic feel that comes out of the method (if you’re not familiar with this budding genre, check it out on Wikipedia). However, I did feel that “Cyrus” wasn’t entirely sincere in attempting to come across as the low-budget non-studio film like so many past Duplass productions have been. According to Reilly in many interviews, many of the scenes were entirely improv and the directors gave the on-screen talent a lot of room to work. However, there were production aspects that bothered me a bit.

The camera and editing work was slightly annoying. The camera would constantly snap-zoom in and out in the middle of shots as if to serve as a constant reminder that audiences are not watching a big studio film (which it was), but rather a low-budget rebelliously constructed indie that was edgy and cool. The editing was much of the same; snappy jump cuts in the middle of shots, sound editing trickery, and lots of extended reaction shots that really break up the pacing and reminds you that you’re watching a film. You might say, “but I am watching a film, so that’s okay”. Ultimately, your preference is your own, but a great editor cuts up the film without even letting you know he or she is even there; seamless editing is the goal. The makers of “Cyrus” didn’t aim to do this at all. Editing made its heavy-handed presence known all throughout the film.

These are the reasons that I think “Cyrus” is not all that sincere of a film. I understand that the Duplass brothers have a long history of independent and stylized filmmaking — I recommend taking a look at “Baghead” (2008), “Hump Day” (2009), or “Puffy Chair” (2005). Those films show plenty of inventiveness and resourcefulness of a low-budget film while keeping interest and entertainment at its peak.

It may sound like I’m being a little harsh, but overall I really enjoyed this film. The actors were great. Jonah Hill showed a new side of his acting ability that I don’t think we’ve seen before. The back-and-forth chemistry between Hill and John C. Reilly was both hilarious and painfully awkward. Some of the filmmaking aspects were bothersome at times, but “Cyrus” will most definitely satisfy and entertain.

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