Mark and Jay Duplass, the directing/writing team of the Puffy Chair (winner of Bend Film's Jury Prize in '05) and the offbeat horror comedy Baghead, venture out of super indie mumble-core mode to semi-mainstream mumble-core mode in their newest flick Cyrus. The signature style of the Duplass bros somewhat mesmerizing in Cyrus, mainly because it hasn't progressed, it just employs more recognizable actors.John (John C. Reilly) is a big, goofy, disheveled, middle-aged loser who meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) at a party. Breaking all the dating rules, things move too fast and hit a wall when John encounters Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly's 21-year-old son still living at home who exudes heartfelt yet bogus politeness, undermining his hostility and resulting in an escalating war of wills with John.
Cyrus stays home casting his deadpan bird-like stare, composing incredibly bad ambient spaced-out techno pop, all the while tugging on Molly's heartstrings with manipulative childish behavior mixed with adult intellect. Several early scenes tease the squirming possibility of incest, and the suspense added by John constantly snooping around creates the feel of a creepy horror movie.
This wickedly ambiguous yet strangely tender story has the actors improvising off a skeletal script, adding authenticity to their stories. Hill shows acting skills in a rarely seen demanding, perverse, poignant yet captivating screen presence that we see through nifty hand-held camerawork. The visuals are intriguing, but perhaps a bit heavy on the often-distracting "documentary-zoom."
Cyrus is almost painful to watch in the same way that it's embarrassing to witness people you know really well having an argument. Not knowing which side to take, you sit back powerless unable to do anything but feel uncomfortable. Cyrus makes us feel awkward and yet drawn to the dilemma of all three characters, never investing in anyone fully but caring for all of them equally.
The best facet of this movie is its simplicity and its ability to suck you in by watching people go through resilient emotions. That's hard to accomplish these days, but Cyrus does it brilliantly.
Starring John C Reilley, Marissa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener
Directed/written by the Duplass Brothers