Blu-ray Reviews: CYRUS - Mainstream Mumblecore At Its Finest

Mumblecore maestros Jay and Mark Duplass may have gone places as a result of their successful ultra-low budget films The Puffy Chair and Baghead, but don't begin to think that a $7m budget and a room full of film stars has done much to curtail their unorthodox style. Cyrus is unquestionably their classiest production to date, yet impressively it does not negate the gritty authenticity that made their previous works so peculiarly enticing. The film is released on Blu-ray today. Here is our review... John (John C. Reilly) is having a tough time. He is still haunted by his wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), divorcing him seven years ago, and in truth, he has failed to really move on or get on with his life. At a party, however, he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), a gorgeous, glowing woman who oddly appears to reciprocate John's interest. The only hurdle? Molly has a twenty-something son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), and he is none too keen on a man encroaching upon his uncomfortably close bond with his mother. From frame one, Cyrus plays like a guerrilla production shot with high-grade cameras stolen from a local film school; the opening titles appear as though tapped in on Windows Movie Maker, meshing almost facetiously with the slick cinematography and all-star cast. Graduating from the 24 school of direction - that is, of zooming in after every important morsel of dialogue to closely observe the reaction - Cyrus' visual style certainly takes a touch of getting used to, but it works perfectly in immersing the viewer, especially in the opening party scene, where it is as though we are passing through, eavesdropping on strangers drinking, talking, and singing badly. Still, the pseudo-raw camerawork and naturalistic dialogue makes this fundamentally a mutation of rather than a departure from the mumblecore aesthetic. Comparisons will lazily (though rightly) be drawn to Ben Stiller's stellar dramedy Greenberg, yet the key difference here is the protagonist; John is not a fundamentally unhappy guy, and at least compared to Greenberg, he is much less of a moping misanthrope. Molly, meanwhile, is a charming single woman, and it is no surprise that John likes her. The obvious question arises, though; why would someone who looks like Marisa Tomei ever be interested in someone who looks like John C. Reilly? Having not been with a stable man since Cyrus was born, her desperation has evidently reached fever pitch, and it is as though John and Molly feed off of each other's sad desperation, making their pairing oddly believable despite our better instincts. Though Reilly has shown himself as diverse in the dramatic arena (having previously been Oscar nominated for Chicago), his role here is his most emotionally complex to date, concocting a character who is at once hilariously bemusing and inherently sympathetic. Fans of his more showy comic work will be relieved that he also lets his Step Brothers-esque man-child character out to play for short bursts, so those unfamiliar with the Duplass' more muted comic style will not be totally alienated. It would be a mistake to assume that the minimalistic style begets a lack of incident, for the relaxed direction feels no need to force awkward, ambiguous love woes onto the viewer; the film is honest in emphasising how much these two people like one another from the outset. The result is that we actually want it to work out, and given that 90% of rom-coms fail to even establish this simple narrative tenet, Cyrus is a winner right out of the gate. When Jonah Hill shows up as Tomei's awkward, emotionally stunted son, things truly hit their stride; an awkward dinner scene preys perfectly on the style and mood established by both the actors and directors. Those expecting funny ha-ha from the clan of comics, however, might be a tad underwhelmed, because the joy comes in the devastating subtlety of it all rather than outrageous, gut-busting zingers. Hill's hilariously dry turn is especially stirring; a real feather in the comic's cap, assuring us that he is not content with merely playing the portly oaf for all time. The supporting cast, though sparse, are great also, especially indie darling Catherine Keener as John's ex-wife, and her husband Tim, played with suitable exasperation by Matt Walsh, who pulls some rather priceless faces as John pesters them for relationship tips. Like Baghead, there is an "is there, isn't there?" ambiguity for much of the picture, for though deep down we really know Cyrus' intentions, the hand is nevertheless held close to the chest for the most part. On the face of things, Cyrus seems like a well-adjusted lad, but maybe he is not; maybe he is a master of manipulation and passive-aggressiveness whose constant night terrors whenever Molly and John go to bed are not so coincidental... When everything inevitably comes to a head in the final act, chaos naturally ensues as does the war of wits, and we are genuinely unsure how it will end. The striking emotional beats and the psychological plausibility of the situation never wavers; we admire it because it is honest to the end, and we are entertained by it because of the intense performances and intimate direction by the Brothers Duplass. Cyrus is one of 2010's best dramedies and a real triumph of style, though it may well be an acquired taste for those expecting a jibe a minute and gross-out gags from two actors who have proven here that they can do more.

Quality:

Probably one of the best-looking dialogue-centric Blu Rays you'll find on the market, Cyrus' handheld style translates perfectly into high-def, with the mildly visible grit and grain giving this the feel of a home movie and a legitimate, intrusive look into someone's life. Aurally there's little to mention; dialogue is fine but there's virtually no soundtrack throughout to speak of.

Extras:

Depressingly, none, and while we don't need twelve featurettes explaining CGI composites and elephantine explosions, a discussion of the film's style and the actors playing against type could have been interesting. Cyrus is available on Blu-ray from today.
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Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.