The film sub-genre of Mumblecore has been around since 2002. They are characterized by improvised scripts spoken by un-proven actors on shoestring budgets. The plots are simplistic, people talking about what people talk about as they would normally talk. Nothing particularly spectacular happens and it’s okay. Slowly, the directors of these films have been getting noticed and given acclaim. Last year, the film Humpday was a huge critical success for writer, director, producer Lynn Shelton. Now, Mumblecore has come to a theater near you with actors you have probably heard of. The brothers Duplass, Mark and Jay, were given the go ahead to work the magic they brought to their previous works, The Puffy Chair and Baghead, into something with a bigger budget. What they have given us is Cyrus — a comedy that keeps its independent vibe and does not skimp on the quirk; yet by the end, if you stay with it, will surprise and charm you.
John’s (John C. Reilly) social life is at a standstill and his ex-wife is about to be remarried. Still single after seven years after the breakup of his marriage, he has all but given up on romance, but at the urging of his ex-wife and best friend, Jaime (Catherine Keener), John grudgingly agrees to join her and her fiancé Tim (Matt Walsh) at a party. To his, and everyone else’s surprise, he actually manages to meet someone; the gorgeous and spirited Molly (Marisa Tormei). Their chemistry is immediate. The relationship takes off quickly but Molly is oddly reluctant to take the relationship beyond John’s house. Confused, he follows her home and discovers the other man in Molly’s life; her son Cyrus (Jonah Hill). A 21-year-old new age musician, Cyrus is his mom’s best friend and shares an unconventional relationship with her. Cyrus will go to any lengths to protect Molly and is definitely not ready to share her with anyone, especially John. Before long, the two are locked in a battle of wits for the woman they both love. It’s a new twist on the old love triangle plot.
Cyrus was made in an unconventional way. Instead of blocking the scenes — preplanning where the actors would stand when they say their lines so that they can be lit properly — the Duplass brothers lit the entire set so that their actors could move about freely and spontaneously thus encouraging the natural feel of their Mumblecore entrees. Unfortunately, what it also does is confuse the cameraman. Since they do not know where the actors are going to be at any particular time, the camera work becomes shoddy, zooming in and out wildly, going out of focus when the actors get too close or too far from the camera. It almost looks like they are shooting a documentary. It was this unrefined style that initially turned me off to the whole Mumblecore genre. It just isn’t something I dig. To me it comes off as being sloppy and uncaring. I also can’t stand slice-of-life type of films. If I want to see natural (read: boring) people do regular (read: extremely boring) things, I could stay at home and save my $12 and my two hours. That said, I really wasn’t looking forward to this film. On top of that, the trailers didn’t really sell this film properly. It was pushing an all out comedy, but I knew enough to know not to expect it. So I came into this film with all that prejudice of mine, and yet the acting and how delicately the directors handled the situations quickly pulled me out of my funk. It became just a change in style, neither good nor bad, just different.
John C. Reilly is a master actor and a joy to watch in anything he does. His relationship with Catherine Keener is interesting to say the least. As exes, they act far more friendly and supportive then any separated couples I’ve ever met. John takes advantage of his ex’s friendship and, as Cyrus starts butting his way into Molly and John’s relationship, John starts becoming the Cyrus in Jaime and Tim’s relationship. Seeing him in this film, as a lead actor was an inspired choice, however he was shown up in the improvising area by Marisa Tormei. His delivery is short and choppy, he stammers constantly. Her delivery is smooth and polished and feels far more professional then either of her male counterparts. She lifts the entire film into a higher caliber. Jonah Hill has, with the Apatow troupe, gotten a lot of improv training in comedy and most of the all out gut-busting moments belong to him.
There are three moments in Cyrus that really brought everything together for me, where the emotions completely congealed and I seriously fell in love with the characters and this movie. In these scenes two characters are talking, however the scene starts on the two people talking to each other, and as we continue to hear them talking, it cuts away to the same two people in other, disparate but related, scenarios and back again, all of this over a great piece of heartfelt music. It was in these times where I could see glimpses of how these directors really had a grasp on how to manipulate the cinematic art to do their bidding. I hope to see them continue to grow.