Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 06/25/10 09:00:00

"Mumblecore pioneers go mainstream."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 53RD SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Mumblecore pioneers and Sundance Film Festival veterans Jay and Mark Duplass ("Baghead," "The Puffy Chair") go mainstream (as in Hollywood mainstream) with their third feature-length film, "Cyrus," a comedy-drama that focuses on three socially awkward, dysfunctional characters and their halting, conflicting, contradictory steps toward balanced, healthy relationships. Before we get there, though, Jay and Mark Duplass take their characters and, by extension us, through a series of painful, humiliating encounters and life lessons, most borderline hilarious (in that “Thank God that’s not me” way).

Cyrus initially centers on John (John C. Reilly), a middle-aged, freelance editor with near-debilitating social shortcomings. He’s still hung on his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), seven years after their divorce. When she announces that she’s marrying her fiancé, Tim (Matt Walsh), John goes into a severe funk. Despite the divorce, Jamie stills cares for John, going as far as inviting him to a party in the slim, dim hopes that he’ll meet someone. What follows is one clumsy encounter after another until, bolstered by too much alcohol, John meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) while he tries to pee in the bushes.

Molly doesn’t seem fazed by John’s boorish, obnoxious behavior, instead appreciating his openness and emotional vulnerability. When John sings along with a Human League song, it’s Molly who joins him. They stumble back to his apartment for a night of sloppy sex. Unwilling to wait the obligatory amount of time before contacting Molly for a second date, John follows her back to her place. There, he meets her 21-year old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Cyrus, a musician with no visible means of support, still lives at home. Worse, he’s inappropriately attached to Molly and Molly, possibly out of guilt, possibly for reasons left unexplained, allows Cyrus to engage in inappropriate comments and behavior, including using the bathroom when she’s taking a shower.

Undaunted, John pursues a relationship with Molly who, oblivious to her son’s machinations to oust John from their lives, ends up as a pawn between the two men. Molly’s questionable behavior is one of Cyrus’ problems, relative to John and Cyrus who, despite their personality defects, behave in a recognizable, believable manner. Maybe the problem was the Duplass brothers’ screenplay, which leaves Molly underwritten or maybe it was the on-set improvisation that left Molly’s behavior unexplored, but whatever the source, it’s still a problem.

It’s less so for John who, as played by John C. Reilly, skirts unlikability multiple times, but never crosses that line. Cyrus’ borderline mentally ill behavior suggests the film is headed for a dark, "Something Wild"-inspired denouement, but to the Duplass’ credit, it doesn’t. Instead, it takes the characters through several, incremental self-realizations, all of them believable. For taking that particular path, the Duplass’ brothers deserve credit. If they could only learn how to write female characters and stop with the shaky cam, constant reframings, zoom-ins and zoom-outs, their future as independent filmmakers would be set.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.