Friday, 5 November 2010
Directed by darlings of the "mumblecore" scene Jay and Mark Duplass, 'Cyrus' is an off-beat American indie comedy which stars John C.Reilly as a John, a divorced, middle-aged man who is unlucky in love until he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) at a party. John and Molly immediately click together and both seem to have found their soul mate. However, Molly has an adult son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), with whom she retains an uncomfortably close relationship. Jealous of this new man in his mother's life, Cyrus resolves to break the relationship up and send John out the door. With hilarious consequences!
Well that's the idea. The tragedy of 'Cyrus' is that it isn't hilarious. Or even wryly amusing. Trapped somewhere between a high-concept Apatow comedy and a subtle, character driven mumblecore film, 'Cyrus' feels like a film in the throes of an identity crisis. I have no problem with filmmakers mixing genres, but the problem here is that the two disparate sets of influences which seem to lie behind this film actually seem to contradict each other and kill the comedy dead. Reilly and Tomei are quite naturalistic and subtle, whilst Hill gives a more heightened, overtly comic turn as Cyrus - his eyes permanently bulging out of his head as if in a state of constant bewilderment.
The gags themselves don't work with the film's lo-fi aesthetic at all. For instance, there is quite a bit of slapstick (with the characters fighting at a wedding, knocking over furniture) which seems out of place in a film which doesn't feel especially madcap (it's got Catherine Keener is in it for Christ's sake). Another scene sees Cyrus undermining John, as he talks to Molly, by holding up large signs in his eye line. "You're going down", Cyrus openly advertises. Why can't John simply point this out to Molly? Why can't he say "your son is trying to break us up... look, he's holding up a sign that says as much behind your head right now!" This scene wouldn't be out of place in a more self-consciously silly comedy (in fact it might even work as an amusing set piece) but in 'Cyrus' it falls completely flat, undermined by what is otherwise a fairly naturalistic film.
No doubt what I have flagged up as a failing may be the key to why some others find 'Cyrus' interesting and funny. Perhaps you could argue that placing this sort of comedy into a new setting, which sees them underplayed rather than exaggerated, is a comic masterstroke. While it didn't strike me that way, I can certainly see the merits of that argument. But even if I thought the gags and set-pieces in 'Cyrus' worked in this context, I would still argue that they have nothing else going for them. There is not a single original joke in the film. "There is no way I'm going to a party tonight" says John. Guess what the next shot is? Then there is a token embarrassing karaoke scene, mined hard for schadenfreude. There's a scene in which Cyrus plays some of his own terrible electronic music for an awkward John. Isn't that joke stolen wholesale from an episode of 'Friends' circa 1997? The comedy coming from the same disconnect between the musician's earnest intensity and his actual ability?
In the end I laughed twice during 'Cyrus'. Once was when Cyrus opines that John's hair is "like a crippled tree reaching for heaven" and the other time was when I realised John C.Reilly sounds exactly like Fozzie Bear from 'The Muppets'. Otherwise, I admired the performances of Reilly and Tomei and wished that 'Cyrus' could have been worthy of its cast. In its attempts to bring the mumblecore movement to a more mainstream comedy audience, it has failed to be either a comedy or a passable indie drama.
'Cyrus' is rated '15' by the BBFC and came out in the UK back in September.