August 11, 2011

Cyrus (USA 2010)

"Cyrus" is the first studio-backed film from the brothers Jay & Mark Duplass. Previously, they have been associated with the Mumblecore movement where the main characteristics have been improvised dialogues and amateur actors. This is the first time time they work with "real" actors - and pretty good ones for that matter. The dialogues also seem mostly scripted this time. Nevertheless the semi-realistic atmosphere the Mumblecore films are famous for is still there.

The set-up of the film (a depressed middle-aged guy meets a nice and beautiful woman who happens to have a grown-up son, the "Cyrus" from the title) lets us expect an average independent film or even a more conventional romantic drama but the approach of the directors here is a little different. Usually young directors want to show off with their first films but the Duplass brothers are more modest. They don't seem to have this need for immediate attention. To them, their characters are more important than themselves. Very little seems all-too-obviously staged in "Cyrus". Apart from a few songs, there is no music in the film and the cinematography is reduced as well. Instead they put their actors in the spotlights. They have absolute confidence in them and don't just use them as puppets for their own "creative vision". As a result, there are a lot of awkard scenes in the film that most other directors would cut away from. But on the other hand the performances are mostly natural. We have come to expect that from John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei but even Jonah Hill shows that he can be much more than just the funny fat guy. His character is still funny but at the same time he makes him mean, desperate and vulnerable.

It is no coincident that the film is called "Cyrus" because he is the main character. The romantic relationship between his mother and the new man is only the trigger for what is primarily a rather serious portrait of a troubled young man who, despite being already 22, is still a big kid that avoids responsabilty and does not yet know what he wants from life. (His passion is music and he has a recording studio at home, but judging from his "performances", there is not really a big market for his kind of music.) This is also where the circle to the mumblecore films closes because most of them also portray the current lost generation of twentysomethings.

The director's approach of realism and credibility doesn't always work though. The plot sometimes feels a little constructed and there are some scenes whose only purpose is to make the film more dramatic. Maybe the producers wanted them for entertainment value but they work against the realism. But these flaws don't really matter in this film that was never made to be "perfect" anyway. Instead the main aim of the directors was sincerity - and with more than a little help from their actors, they achieved it.


Cyrus the Virus: Jonah Hill

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