Billy Gray

Cyrus

In Movie Reviews on July 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm

2010 is shaping up to be the year of two parallel, inverse cinematic developments: the fall of the blockbuster and the rise of mumblecore.

Traditional multiplex fare like Robin Hood, Sex and the City 2, Prince of Persia, The A-Team, Jonah Hex and Knight and Day bombed, some of them cataclysmically. Indie-minded and microscopically-budgeted movies like Greenberg and, now, Cyrus won’t make as much money in their entire runs as those big budget failures did in their opening weekends. Still, the healthy financial and solid critical successes of these little guys (starring some big names) denote mumblecore’s move from art house, or even IFC, screens and Film Comment pages to the major leagues.

Cyrus comes from writers-directors Jay and Mark Duplass, two of mumblecore’s earliest and most influential practitioners. (The regrettably named movement goes further than other indies in eschewing big studio gloss and genre tropes with movies so barebones and modest in scale, setting, plot and dialogue as to make prime Sundance-era material—from sex, lies and videotape to, gulp, Spitfire Grill—look like exercises in Heaven’s Gate-level bombast.

John is a feckless divorcee played by the maestro of fecklessness, John C. Reilly. He meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) and is mystified why someone so out of his league would give him a second look. Imagine Woody Allen asking the same question of Diane or Mia! Reilly’s problems extend beyond incredulity to Molly’s son Cyrus, a 22-year old manchild who lives with Molly and psychotically fends off her suitors.

The Brothers Duplass don’t exactly scrimp on the creepiness. Cyrus brushes his teeth while Molly showers in the same bathroom. They leave their bedroom doors open at night so they can hear and glimpse each other across a narrow hallway, even as a bewildered, skeeved John disrobes in anticipation of sex. But laughs trump pathos, as when John glimpses a framed picture of Molly nursing Cyrus when he looks like he could reach her breasts standing up on his own.

Cyrus has its ominous moments, particularly the build to its denouement at the wedding of John’s ex-wife Jamie (the always welcome Catherine Keener). John brings Molly, who extends a pity invite to Cyrus after he flees the nest, suffers a string of panic attacks and promptly moves back in, all due to his mom’s quickly progressing relationship. The screenplay telegraphs the violence that awaits, but effectively puts a knot in your stomach during the quiet buildup to the big day.

But unlike David O. Russell’s Spanking the Monkey, a far darker indie incest comedy that in so many ways thrust incest to the center, Cyrus is content to keep it light. The disconnect between the movie’s latent taboo subject matter and airy tone doesn’t really irk until the movie’s pat conclusion. At least the Duplass brothers also skirted gravitas in the form of a generational “statement” about the American male’s permanently arrested adolescence, a theme developed more crudely in the Judd Apatow canon and, less illustriously, last weekend’s Grownups.

Unlike Cyrus, the performances are all mature and subdued. No one plays endearing, mushy (facially and emotionally) lug like Reilly. Hill’s fleshy mug doesn’t do much work, but the deer-in-headlights deadpan and shapeless traffic cone of a body suit the immobile Cyrus. Tomei once again proves the cranky My Cousin Vinnie Oscar doubters wrong with a vulnerable, warm turn despite an undercooked character. As in The Wrestler and In The Bedroom Tomei redeems the thankless role of romantic foil.

Key mumblecore components are in place: basic but off-kilter premise; laconic, colloquial dialogue that nails the excruciating skipped beats of everyday conversation; and handheld cameras zooming in to pore-counting closeness.

Cyrus’s biggest revelation may be that shakily closing in on famous actors is a boon to mumblecore and not its sellout funeral.

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