This review was originally published on April 22, 2010…
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or just watching mainstream fare) for the past five years than the name “Duplass” probably sounds familiar. Mark and Jay Duplass have spent the last half a decade directing and acting in high-quality films with rather low budgets. Involved in the mumblecore movement, their films “The Puffy Chair” (2005) and “Baghead” (2008) were shot on handheld digital cameras and featured non-actors who improvised most of their dialogue. Word quickly spread that the Duplass Brothers were two filmmakers to watch. Mark’s leading role in Lynn Shelton’s “Humpday,” which won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance, didn’t hurt their cause either. When word was released that The Duplass Brothers were making a film with John C. Riley and Jonah Hill, both of whom have a history in mainstream comedies such as “Talladega Nights: The Story of Ricky Bobby” and “Superbad,” respectively, the question as to whether the indie filmmakers would stay true to their low-budget aesthetic or would they transform their style into something mainstream audiences were used to seeing?
“Cyrus” tells the story of a man named John who’s still struggling with his 7-year divorce to Jamie (Catherine Keener) who recently announced that she’s getting remarried. And while she doesn’t want to be with John anymore, she does want him to be happy. So she forces him to put on pants (a chore for any depressed divorcee) and drags him to a party. There, he discovers Vodka and Red Bull, champions The Human League, and meets a beautiful 40-something named Molly (Marisa Tomei). Things heat up between John and Molly, as things often do in movies like this, and just as John’s world starts to look a little less bleak, Cyrus (Jonah Hill) enters the picture.
There’s nothing that’ll cramp a man’s style like a 22-year-old kid still living at home. That’s exactly what John finds himself up against. Cyrus is a seemingly mature product of a broken home whose bond with his mother is not to be tested. As John tries to move things forward with Molly it becomes increasingly aware to John (and, of course, not to Molly who believes John’s imagining things, as characters often do in movies like these) that there are going to be problems getting past her kin.
So, with a mainstream premise, mainstream actors, and a mainstream budget (as least compared to their previous work), have the Duplass brothers created a “mainstream movie?” Are there any signs of the style, humor, and charm that made “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead” must-see films for Indy Cine lovers? The answer to both questions is “yes.” They’ve done both. Each and every performance is wonderful. The comedy is spot-on. Even the handheld cinema-verite style is intact. As if by magic, the two writers/directors have done what so many independent filmmakers before them have tried to do: they’ve crossed over while maintaining exactly what made them unique. Wherever Mark and Jay are right now, be sure that they’re having their cake and eating it too, maybe literally.
While “Cyrus” has a lot of great aspects worth noting, one technique that’s sure to be “borrowed” for years to come is its voiceover/montage work. John and Molly fall in love on camera. They laugh, they cuddle, and they say all of the sappy things people say to one another when love happens to them. But instead of having to watch the actors declare these cheesy lines to one another (as audiences usually have to do when watching movies like this) the lucky viewers are treated to an engaging series of shots with overlying dialogue that’s much more effective than clichéd “close-up; overdramatic line delivery; reaction shot” formula. This technique is just one part of the most refreshing romantic comedy in years. And that’s exactly what “Cyrus” is, refreshing.