Two non-festival actually distributed mumblecore movies in the first half of 2009? I guess the cinematic movement has hit the big-time. Much like the excellent Greenberg, Cyrus is a charming and intimate look at passive aggressive behavior used as a defense mechanism for wounded people. And really, who isn't wounded in some way? Unlike Greenberg, Cyrus has a very grounded and sympathetic performance from John C. Reilly here playing down-on-his-luck divorcee, John. This very specific type of character, a slightly overbearing but ultimately honest and caring sad-sack, has been honed over the years with director P.T. Anderson in Hard Eight, Boogie Nights and Magnolia. The Duplass Brothers, with their home-movie aesthetic (180 degrees from Anderson's voluminous cinematic eye) manage to make a more intimate (or less cinematic) film which shifts the focus and on this (actually all three) wonderful performance. Is it fair to say that lack gloss helps elevate the actors work here? Sure, but that's not a bug, its a feature. It certainly does not hurt to be acting along with Marisa Tomei, one of the most generous and giving actress working today. Their flirting and eventual consummation of their relationship is one of the highlights of the film. At one point John asks, "Am I glowing?" The answer would be a resounding "Yes!" The chemistry is palpable.
But Molly (Tomei) goes from life-line to object to win as the film shifts gears when 'good son' Jonah Hill shows up as the titular character. I would have preferred Molly to be more of a driver and less of a prize, but it is a minor quibble which sorts itself out in the third act. Catherine Keener is along for the ride, mainly to give some advice and loaded reaction shots (giving some of the best since Martin Freeman in BBC The Office.) She initially kicks off the movie by telling John, her ex-husband, that she is getting remarried and then invites him to a party where there will be available women. The party is a particularly excellent set-piece all on its own that finds Tomei's Molly picking up a hapless John first while relieving himself in the back garden, then during a very drunken rendition of the Human League's 'Don't You Want Me'. Their relationship clicks surprisingly fast, until trust issues enter the equation and have John stalking Molly to her pad to discover she has a 22 year old live-at-home-son. John is fairly genuine in his attempts to make things work, but he cannot help but notice that Molly is perhaps a little too coddling and protective and Cyrus is a little, shall we say, stunted. All the passive-agressive chicanery outlined in the trailer is condensed into a rather short amount of run-time, and for once, much of the good parts (which could not be condensed into quick-cut advertisement anyway) are not shown before you watch the full film. An incident involving running shoes pays off both subtly and wonderfully, a gesture of reconciliation is both simple and complex. The film actually gives a fair bit of time exploring how people struggle and position for affection. While Molly is not as well rounded as John, she does manage to make the most out of the character, particular with her own realizations as the film goes onward.
Lest you think that this film is just another romantic comedy with good looking people behaving badly, it is actually the other way around. Average looking people (Tomei very much excepted) who eventually behave as realistic human beings. Cyrus would make a great double bill with Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World or even P.T. Anderson's Punch-drunk Love even if it lacks the stylings of those to directors - to be fair to the Duplass Brothers and their cinematographer, there is some nice bridging of disconnected of audio and visuals, not unlike Soderbergh's The Limey; and the seek-and-find zooming while sometimes distracting, and even giving a goofy crotch-shot of Reilly at one point, seem in step with the tone of the film. As the romantic comedy has been getting more ridiculous over the years, in no small part thanks to Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, Gerard Butler and Katherine Heigl leave it to far better actors and a far, far, far better script to take a tiny step in saving this haggard genre. Yet there is the fear that this is a film that people will probably not see because there is no ultra-high concept. But enough bitching, let us celebrate Cyrus for having the adults behave (more or less) like adults at the end of the show and balancing the antics with a healthy dose of realistic intimacy.
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