Cyrus (2010) movie poster

(2010) directors Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
viewed: 04/02/11

Mumblecore goes mainstream.  So to speak.

Or maybe literally.  I don’t know.

Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass are significant figures of the mumblecore movement with their films The Puffy Chair (2005) and Baghead (2008), the latter of which being the only mumblecore film that I can lay claim to having seen.  But when your producers are Ridley and Tony Scott, your film is released by Fox Searchlight and you have actual movie stars in your film (John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener, and Jonah Hill) and your budget is in the millions, by definition, you are no longer making a mumblecore movie.

Mumblecore has been defined by its low budgets and no name actors, among other things.  What the Duplass brothers do bring from the mumblecore movement is aesthetic and content, focussing on interpersonal relationships, a low-fi look and feel, and a sense of comic realism.

Cyrus is the story of a divorced man (Reilly) whose life is in a rut, until his ex-wife (Keener) talks him into a party where he drunkenly tries to connect with women.  Despite some major swings and misses, he hooks up with an attractive woman (Tomei), who genuinely likes and connects with him.  And suddenly, life is good.  Until he finds out that she has an adult son named Cyrus (Hill), who has a very strange relationship with his mother, and who dons the role of friendship while actually trying to sabotage Reilly’s relationship.

There are aspects of the film where it feels like it could verge into the territory of the shocking and more blatantly outrageous aspects of humor, a more common type of Hollywood comedy, where two characters play against each other in increasingly over-the-top acts of destruction.  And there is enough of that hanging in there, that keeps the film feeling off-kilter enough, that you are not quite sure how it will turn out.  But maybe that is the difference in a mumblecore film.  Maybe reaching into the realms of the outlandish and hysterical is not really a card that ever gets played.  And maybe it’s only hanging there in the background because we’ve grown to expect that kind of comic nonsense.

The film is more grounded in the naturalistic, and even with a sort of unpronounced incestuous angle to the story, the film is much more about the humanistic qualities of the characters.  Reilly is very good in his role (as he typically is).  Tomei is also good as the oddball mom.  And Hill, who I don’t usually care for, certainly puts in one of his better performances.

In the end, though, avoiding dramatic and comedic histrionics, the film stays at a meandering norm, engaging and involving, but never really reaching to be more.  The camerawork is typically low-key and while there is a bigger budget in hand, the film still has this very low-end feel to it, never attempting to be aesthetically brilliant.  It’s not a bad film, but it doesn’t really come across as compelling either.

In the meantime, there are other mumblecore films that I’ve been meaning to see, so maybe I just need to check out some others.

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