Combustible Celluloid
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With: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh, Diane Mizota, Kathy Wittes, Katie Aselton, Jamie Donnelly, Tim Guinee, Charlie Brewer, Steve Zissis
Written by: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
Directed by: Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual material
Running Time: 91
Date: 01/23/2010

Cyrus (2010)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Lonely Ones

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The "mumblecore" movement, typified by filmmakers Andrew Bujalski and Mark and Jay Duplass and others, has a few intellectual supporters and many detractors. These films are ultra-realistic and filled with smart, but awkward conversations. A very common reaction to them is discomfort, which could probably explain this mixed response. But the other facet of "mumblecore" is the defiantly low budgets and tiny distribution. And so, now that Mark and Jay Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Baghead) have "gone Hollywood," with a much bigger budget and a cast of known stars, detractors are bound to come out of the woodwork, brandishing cries of "sell out."

Fortunately, the Duplasses have not so much sold out, as they have required their stars to step up and do some first-class acting, finding spontaneity in uncomfortable places. John (John C. Reilly) is a freelance editor and sad-sack divorcee. His ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener) -- with whom he's still friendly -- is about to remarry. We meet him, desperate, at a party, talking up any woman in earshot. He meets the gorgeous, sexy Molly (Marisa Tomei) and they miraculously hit it off. He discovers that she has a crafty, needy home-schooled son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Cyrus begins subtly plotting to remove his new "competition" from their home and lives, and John must put aside his self-esteem issues to fight back.

With this cast and this plot, Cyrus could easily have been a disgusting, yet touching Judd Apatow movie, but the Duplasses have other things in mind. They are looking for the desperate, pathetic low points of human behavior, such as John's extreme neediness and lack of confidence. When Molly sneaks out of his place early, he follows her to find out why. He's lurking around her property when he first meets Cyrus, and it's genuinely embarrassing. That's a big moment, but there are many small ones, too, as John jumps too many moves ahead during the dating game. Too early he wishes aloud that their relationship will "work out," and to Molly's credit, she hangs in there. (Maybe she's just as lonely.)

The Duplasses move in close with their camera, looking for nuance in performance rather than a visual scheme. Even Hill manages to break out of his usual shtick to play a well-rounded character; his funniest and most deeply creepy moment comes when he demonstrates his electronic "music" for John; he stares directly into John's eyes, blankly and for an uncomfortable length of time, while creating his weird wall of sound. The filmmakers have been criticized for not fully fleshing out Molly's character; she's a bit closed off, and it's hard to really feel her attraction or adoration for John, but she still feels like a real person. Regardless of this focus on character and dialogue, the filmmakers manage to capture a world of lived-in homes (not quite urban, and not quite suburban), tired old cars, and tired people. All they have is each other. If only they can keep from tripping all over each other to get closer.

Fox's Blu-Ray comes with some funny extras. We get deleted scenes, interviews and Q&As with the Duplass brothers, a "music mash-up," and featurettes on Hill and Reilly (but, sadly, not Tomei).

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