Movie Review: Cyrus

I was lucky enough to attend the Cyrus premiere during SXSW and absolutely loved it, website but I wasn’t really sure if the effect of a sympathetic (and loudly laughing) audience of 1200 was throwing my experience. Still, I recommended it to just about anyone who would listen.

I saw it again at the Arclight in a full but smallish room, sitting between a not-quite snoring guy and a woman who was audibly disgusted by every appearance of Jonah Hill and many by John C. Reilly.  Didn’t matter.  This movie is really, really good.

Now, I’m a big fan of the first film from the Duplass brothers, The Puffy Chair.  I love the naturalism in the performances that they achieve through their method of structured improvisation.  I was less fond of Baghead and wondered if maybe the strength of Puffy Chair came from the real-life relationship of its leads, Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton.  I wondered if it would work with the better-known and potentially higher-maintenance cast of Cyrus, but it absolutely does.  The scenes feel very natural, and the comedy stems from the pained awkwardness of the performances played completely deadpan.  I often feel that comedic actors know they’re being funny even when they’re playing a character straight.  That was not the case here at all.  We’re laughing with John because if we weren’t we’d be crying.  We know that he’s on the edge of debilitating depression and we’re invested in his relationship with Molly.  When Cyrus says, “Seriously, don’t fuck my mom. Just kidding,” we have to laugh.  John’s response kills us not because its a joke but because its not.  We understand his response but want so badly for him to dig himself out of this hole that we laugh in order to lighten the situation.  It’s to Marisa Tomei’s credit that we completely buy that she sees something in this over-eager, yet lovable guy.  After all, she has reason to be eager, too.  At the same time, we buy that she’s blind to Cyrus’ attempts to sabotage the budding romance.  It’s a fine line, but she plays it completely believably and with depth.

In the end, the Duplass’ approach is completely successful, and the talented improvisers were able to work within their method and deliver gems like the aforementioned warning Cyrus delivers at the dinner table.  According to the panel at SXSW, that line was ad-libed by Jonah Hill, and John’s response in opening up came out organically.  It’s brilliant stuff that I think would have been over the top on the page but plays.  They did apparently have trouble with some scenes that ended up cut as montage with voice over in a way that reminded me of The Limey.  Those sequences didn’t bother me at all and gave a nice sense of a relationship developing while getting away from talky scenes shot in closeup.

If I had to criticize anything in the film, it would be the camera work.  The zoom-heavy handheld shooting was endearing when it was a DVX-100 and matched the production value of The Puffy Chair.  It feels a little put-on with this footage shot on the RED.  I also always prefer to see movies that take advantage of the big screen.  So much indie film these days feels like it was shot for online consumption, and that scares me a little.  Let’s make movies that look like movies while we still can.  Still, I can’t say that it doesn’t suit the story, so maybe its an unfair criticism.

If you like subtle yet hilarious comedies and films about people and relationships, go see this movie.  Hollywood needs to know that good movies about real people made inexpensively and in 2D can succeed in entertaining us and be financially viable.

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