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A family, sort of: Hill, Tomei and Reilly in Cyrus

Intimate Entertainment

By John Rodat


Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass

Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, who share writing and directing credit for Cyrus, have pulled off an unlikely feat: They’ve made an excellent, mainstream mumblecore movie.

The duo have always been at the more accessible end of the genre’s spectrum. Though they’ve made their films inexpensively, embraced the handheld aesthetic, and favored scripts that are—or seem—highly personal and improvisational, there’s always been an evident awareness of audience. For all their lo-fi vibe, the Duplasses are more traditional filmmakers than peers like Joe Swanberg.

In their previous films, this odd combination of DIY technique and Hollywood instinct has yielded mixed results. Their debut feature, The Puffy Chair, was like a home-movie version of When Harry Met Sally—i.e., unbearable. The intimacy of the Duplass style worked as an unintended parody illustrating just how grating it would be to actually encounter in real life any of rom-com’s “opposites attract” stock couples. On the other hand, the brothers’ take on the low-budget horror movie, Baghead, was smart, funny, inventive and scary.

In Cyrus, the brothers have scored with a virtual dream team of name actors with the chops and charm to fill spaces the Duplasses give them. Everyone in this movie is simply flawless. Everyone.

John C. Reilly plays John, a middle-aged shlub bracing for the re-marriage of his ex-wife, with whom he is still close. Too close, maybe. A chance—and embarrassing—encounter with Molly (Marisa Tomei), a long-time single mom to an adult child, brings John out of his doldrums. The quick chemistry between John and Molly (and between John and Marisa) yields a genuine and believable connection. Despite John’s self-deprecating characterization of the couple as a “hot girl” and “Shrek,” they are charming together. Much of the movie’s appeal is the pleasure of spending time with John and Molly.

The complication is, ostensibly, the too-close relationship between Molly and her 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who still lives at home. Cyrus has not yet “come into himself,” to use Molly’s euphemism. To use Cyrus’s own he is a really “fucked up and dysfunctional individual.”

And this is the real heart of the movie. Cyrus is, whatever else, an astute diagnostician. But he’s not the only fucked-up character. Each of the three main characters is fucked up, psychically battered and sad. But they’re self-aware, strong, dignified and decent, as well. The depictions of John, Molly and Cyrus are tender without being precious; and the Duplasses intimate direction allows perfect access.

Cyrus is far and away the best work the Duplasses have made (for what it’s worth, it’s also a better rounded picture than any made yet by Noah Baumbach, another mumblecore-indebted director). But I’d say it stacks up well against any other movie this year, and recent years.

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