The Duplass Brothers have graduated from their humble roots to bigger and better filmmaking with their new Fox Searchlight picture Cyrus, which premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in late January. The two got their start making quirky short films and eventually produced two features, which helped establish the mumblecore genre of filmmaking (previously described in the review of New Low). The Puffy Chair premiered at Sundance in 2005 and Baghead premiered at Sundance in 2008, both to fairly positive audience reactions and reviews. Cyrus, the latest project from this talented duo, is a step up in terms of budget, technique, and casting, but has nonetheless retained their flair for turning the quotidian aspects of life into amusing drama.
The A-list cast stands out for an independent film and features John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener, and Matt Walsh. The actors provide scene after scene of humorous dialogue that the directors admit was mostly improvised. Beyond the comedy, though, are intense and emotional performances that elevate the film to another level.
Cyrus is a hard film to categorize as it blurs the lines between comedy and drama. Much of the story revolves around the dysfunctional relationships between the three leads who play very flawed, yet generally likeable characters. The film plays out like a traditional Oedipal tale as John C. Reilly’s character attempts to court a single mother played by Marisa Tomei, but is constantly thwarted by her grown, live-at-home son fabulously portrayed by Jonah Hill. This mother-son relationship, which is pivotal to the narrative, could have been played cheaply for laughs, but seems innocent and earnest. The interactions between the three main characters are frequently funny, but their situation is serious and realistic making the film incredibly awkward and tense. The film is challenging at times, but ultimately very entertaining.
During a post-Sundance screening Q&A, the filmmakers revealed that they do not seek to make conventional movies, but rather capture human relationships on film. This mission statement is very evident in the way they made Cyrus allowing the film to grow in different directions than first intended. Their approach to cinema is unique and makes these two directors to watch out for in the future.
The bottom line: the film may not appeal to everyone, but for fans of the cast, dark comedy, or unconventional filmmaking, Cyrus more than delivers.