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Teen Review: ‘Cyrus’

Duplass Brothers Upgrade Thier Mumblecore Style

Above: Jonah Hill plays the title character in "Cyrus."

“Cyrus” (opening July 2 at Landmark's Hillcrest and La Jolla Village Theaters, and Ultrastar Flower Hill) is the Duplass Bros.’ latest entry into their now half-decade long filmmaking career. (You can also listen to Beth Accomando interview with Marisa Tomei.)So far they have played the roles of both creators and ardent mainstays of a peculiar little niche cinematic movement known as “mumblecore.” Characterized by handheld photography, a penchant for the zoom button, and the at times muffled audio track (hence the “mumble” label), it’s a remarkable achievement that their films work at all. Of course, it helps that the Duplass’ happen to be very talented writers as well, and "Cyrus" is certainly no exception in that regard.

However, there are some differences between this and the brothers’ previous efforts, most noticeably, the typical cast of unknowns has been replaced with an impressive ensemble of some of the most talented and rather well known actors working today. Yet the aesthetic remains the same, as does the Duplass’ tendency for quirky, awkward, and wonderfully offbeat characters and plots.

"Cyrus" tells the story of a man named John (John C. Reilly), a freelance editor who seems to be stuck in a perpetual rut since his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) left him seven years earlier. To make matters worse, she’s about to re-marry. So, sensing John’s depression, she forces him to come out with her and her prospective spouse to a party. At the party, however, John comes across as nothing more than a pathetic, lonely little man. But then a chance encounter with a gorgeous and friendly stranger named Molly (Marisa Tomei) brings some much-needed companionship to John’s life. Soon, their relationship blossoms, but every night, Molly walks out on John, saying she has to go home for some undisclosed reason. John, of course, becomes suspicious, and so he decides to follow her home one night. It is then that John finally discovers what Molly’s been hiding -- her 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill).

Tensions arise, to be sure, but all parties remain optimistic about John’s presence in Molly’s life, that is, until John starts to suspect Cyrus of being a lying, manipulating, and truly disturbed young man with an all too unhealthy relationship towards his mother.

The writing and acting is all top notch here. I found myself laughing compulsively as the tension progressively billowed between Reilly and Hill, both of whom bring their A-game to the material. And while Reilly and Tomei deliver wonderfully effective and refreshingly honest performances that remind us why they are among the finest actors working today, it is Hill who is the real find in this film as he manages to take what could easily have become a caricature and instead delivers a deeply funny yet surprisingly affecting and empathetic portrait of a human being in Cyrus.

While there is a lot to like about this film, it does suffer from an unfortunately far too convenient finale in which characters grow and resolve their issues in the most abrupt manner possible (there are even a couple characters whose storyline isn’t afforded anything resembling closure). While I don’t question the logic in how some of these characters came to arrive at where they did by the end of this film, I fail to completely buy it as a viewer and suggest the Duplass Bros. ditch their reliance on a having every movie they make run 90 minutes or less. Not that it doesn’t work for some, but there’s a good ten or twenty minutes I wish had been incorporated into this film. Unfortunately it’s not, and the final stretch of the film suffers because of it, making “Cyrus” a bit more underwhelming an experience than the first hour would suggest. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot to like here and the Duplass’ remain some of the most interesting filmmakers working today. So check "Cyrus" out if you get the chance.

-Michael Shymon just finished his freshman year at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts where he's studying Film & Television Production. He's hoping one day all this movie watching will finally pay off. While he's home for summer break in San Diego, he'll be resuming his duties as a KPBS Teen Critic.

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