Tuesday, June 15, 2010

CYRUS: The Duplass brothers hit a home run with the help of a first-rate cast


We can make fun of Ridley Scott for Robin Hood and/or A Good Year -- and his brother Tony for, well, take your pick – but we owe these two a debt of gratitude for executive-producing the year’s most charming film so far, one that gives the heretofore mumble-
core Duplass brothers their first crack at going mainstream. And? Whoosh – they’re there in one fell swoop. CYRUS, the new R-rated rom-com that comes by its rating simply by being real and funny in an adult manner, is a treasure that makes plain how talented are Mark (below, right) and Jay Duplass (below, left). Up to now, writing and or directing and/or sometimes acting (often in the mumblecore of others) -- low-unto-no-budget movies like The Puffy Chair, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Baghead, Humpday -- these two have proven themselves worth watching, if not jumping up and down about. Start jumping.

What makes Cyrus so special is chemistry. We all know about chemistry between actors, but how often do we realize that chemistry between characters is just as important. The Duplasses have managed to nail both of these just about perfectly. The big difference here is that, for the first time, the bros are working with top-notch actors rather than the often unpaid intern-types that their low/no budget movies have generally dictated. Don’t get me wrong: I like Greta Gerwig, too, and a few of the other actors in the Duplass oeuvre. But in Cyrus, the brothers have the use of some “greats”: John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener and Jonah Hill (the latter may not be great, but if his career keeps on-track, he may yet be).

These four (above, left to right: Tomei, Hill, Reilly and Keener) have true charisma; their work looks effortless. More important, they’ve got that chemistry. Each one’s role suits him/her to a tee, and they bounce off each other with such charm, humor, feeling, intelligence and – when the moment call for it – anger that we are hooked from scene one. And the movie just gets better from that point on. Reilly, after his terrific work in so many films, hits some kind of stride here. (See him in the under-appreciated Cirque du Freak: the Vampire’s Assistant, which proves, as does Cyrus, that this guy can play the hero and romantic lead with the best of them).  Tomei matches him moment for moment. She simply grows more gorgeous and supple, mature and desirable as she ages, and here, in the role of a mother and a lover, she excels. Hill could not be better cast, and as he (with the help of his writers/directors) allows his role to grow and deepen, he keeps surprising us. Keener and Matt Walsh have lesser roles but fill them to the brim.

The brothers adhere pretty much to their homemade look; the film clearly has a higher budget but still bears an appealing, off-the-cuff quality. My only quibble with their "technique" is the use of a sud-
den little jolt when the camera seems to "zoom in" slightly in a way that calls needless attention to itself.  In only one out of maybe half-a-dozen uses does it seem legitimate. But this is quibbling.

Cyrus brushes against darkness without slipping over into it. This will be a problem for some critics and viewers who demand the dark side. The Duplasses and their fine actors want to make us under-
stand that, regarding relationships, once we find one that has pos-
sibilities -- as the one in this film definitely does -- we can counter the dark via the use of, primarily, whatever intelligence and ration-
ality are at our disposal.  And we have to keep on trying. Attempts – one after another – are vital, just as they are, once the relation-
ship matures. I don’t want to oversell Cyrus (what--I already have?), so I’ll just say that this movie makes me more interested than I have been so far to see whatever the Duplasses do next.

The film opens, via Fox Searchlight, in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, June 18.  For further playdates, click here.

2 comments:

GHJ - said...

I'm watching this tomorrow morning. Can't wait!

James van Maanen, said...

I shall await your thoughts. This movie really surprised me. Given its cast, I thought it might be fun, but I did not expect to be anywhere near THIS impressed.