SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | April 4, 2010
Directors: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Writers: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener
The Duplass brothers’ first two films – The Puffy Chair and Baghead – were my favorite films of SXSW 2005 and SXSW 2008 respectively; so I entered the SXSW 2010 screening of Cyrus with unbelievably high expectations. Armed with a significantly more robust budget than their first two features and a marquee cast (Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, John C. Reilly and Catherine Keener) to boot, Cyrus could easily be a sell-out – but thankfully it isn’t.
(Before I go any further, you should totally read my Smells Like Screen Spirit cohort J.P. Chapman’s most excellent review of Cyrus. I think we share a lot of the same opinions and feelings about Cyrus, but hopefully you’ll find that the words we chose to express those opinions and feelings are different enough to warrant two reviews.)
John (John C. Reilly) – a depressed divorcee of seven years – still relies heavily upon his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), for support. But when Jamie announces that she is engaged, John’s emotional foundation is shaken. Jamie drags John to a party and convinces him to chat up some women – a task that John is unable to do without having a few drinks. It is not long before John is completely sloshed, instantly red flagging himself as a lonely and desperate loser to each of his intended prey.
While not so nonchalantly taking a leak in the backyard, John stumbles upon a beautiful woman – Molly (Marisa Tomei) – who essentially picks him up. John is just as perplexed as we are – why would a woman like Molly pursue him? John’s suspicions begin to fester as Molly repeatedly sneaks out of his house in the middle of the night. Eventually, curiosity gets the best of him and John opts to stalk Molly…tailing her home one night. Then, while scoping out Molly’s house, John encounters her grown son Cyrus (Jonah Hill). John is quickly thrust into the intensely intimate world of Cyrus and Molly. Unsure of how to react to Cyrus’ obvious (at least to John) mind games, John finds himself ridiculously competing with Cyrus for Molly’s love and attention.
The competition between John and Cyrus evolves into an out-and-out battle of the wits, but somehow the Duplass brothers are able to keep tight reigns on what could have easily spun into an absurd comedy – opting for naturalism over exaggeration. As much as I love Reilly, his comedic performances (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, Step Brothers, Walk Hard) have an affinity for the ridiculous; the very same could be said of Hill. Personally, I much prefer Reilly’s dramatic roles (Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Hard Eight) and I think his performance in Cyrus fits in better with his dramatic oeuvre than his forays into comedy.
Reilly and Hill also reveal their knack for comedic timing and more importantly…wait for it…patience. Each scene lingers for a few beats longer than typical Hollywood fare, catching even the most subtle of changes in facial expressions after the actors finish with their lines. Though Cyrus is by definition a far cry from the epitome of “mumblecore,” it features a slew of the Duplass brothers’ signature directorial characteristics – most importantly the timing and delivery of the dialogue. Additionally, the camera zooms in and out – refocusing when necessary – in total randomness as if the parties involved were still marking out the scene.
Essentially, there is absolutely no mistaking Cyrus for anything other than a Duplass brothers’ film – and they deserve a lot of credit for retaining their own manner and style. But the greatest single achievement of Cyrus is the casting an “everyman” (Reilly) as the romantic lead. By doing so, Cyrus intelligently comments on and works in radical opposition to the traditional rom-com genre. Yet Cyrus never goes as far as making fun of or satirizing rom-coms; this is by no means an anti-rom-com. Instead, Cyrus is a re-fashioning of the rom-com genre with a Duplassian twist.