Tuesday, 28 December 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Cyrus

Directed by: Jay & Mark Duplass

Produced by:
Michael Costigan
Tony Scott
Ridley Scott

Written by: Jay & Mark Duplass

John C. Reilly
Jonah Hill
Marisa Tomei
Catherine Keener
Matt Walsh

Music by: Michael Andrews

Cinematography by: Jas Shelton

Editing by: Jay Dueby

Studio: Scott Free Productions

Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Release date(s):
January 23, 2010 (Sundance Premiere)
June 18, 2010 (United States)
September 10, 2010 (United Kingdom)

Country: United States

Language: English

Budget: $7 million

Gross revenue: $9, 515, 592

Christmas has been and gone. Another fucking year over and done with is the hallmark of this seasonal event for yours truly. 'Tis the season to be jolly:' why not be jolly the whole year round, instead of jinxing those of us who don't dig this forced feeling of festivity? Well, can't complain overly, I am now at long last an owner of a seventh-generation games console (a PlayStation 3 being my 'poster boy' gift this year). Also, I started the month by getting my first phone in eight years, so I'm gradually becoming a man of this consumer world again. Doesn't stop me ranting on about it, but why the fuck did I start ranting on this? Not 'why', because it is obvious I just need some filler/starting material, but 'this', as in arriving at the departure lounge on a completely different topic matter. You can answer, because your guess is as good as mine.

Moving swiftly (and I mean swiftly) on, lets get down with our film topic of the hour Cyrus. Now, I must say that from the off I was really looking forward to this film. I like a lot of the Judd Apatow-esque comedies that have been condemned by many critics as destroying comedy, however, there are most too many, The Hangover being the prime example (not looking forward to the sequel – what the fuck do you write about?). Any comedy that looks like it pushes buttons, focuses on personal relationships or has good ideas is always welcome in my book, especially when many of the films I see in a year are bad comedies. Also, for anyone who does decide to see the film, marketing has once again ballsed up. The trailer takes all of the 'funny', as in more extravagant scenes from the film, and is by no means representative of the work.

John (John C. Reilly) has been seven years divorced from his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener), who is now engaged to be re-married to Tim (Matt Walsh). Still having a good relationship with John, Jamie attempts to get John out of his lonely existence, having him come to a party to which she has been invited. Reluctantly, John attends and meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), a woman of similar personality to John's true self, who thinks that he has found the woman of his dreams. Upon going to her house one day, he finds out that she has a grown son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who does not appreciate the intrusion into the household. As such, he both intentionally and unintentionally interferes with the relationship between John and Molly.

To start with what is good about Cyrus, we must talk first of the acting. For a film with this story and of this nature, it is appropriate that naturalistic acting be employed. John C. Reilly gives a believable performance as John. His depressive acting is not one of the ridiculous portrayals that you get with some comedic actors 'doing depressed.' Reilly approaches his character with genuine feeling and respect. Therefore, the need and longing is established, and John (character) is all the more endearing to the audience as a result. Also, Marisa Tomei is a fabulous actress who already knows how to act, so we have no bother here. Although she plays second fiddle very much to the tension between Reilly and Hill's characters, Tomei does a good job of playing the different roles of mother and lover torn between where her loyalties lie. However, the best performance of the film is that of Jonah Hill as Cyrus. Hill is best remembered by the mainstream for his role as the foul-mouthed Seth in Superbad. His role in Cyrus (as Cyrus) is the other end of the comedy spectrum. Cyrus is outwardly a mildly eccentric, but nevertheless friendly young man. However, Hill reveals the extent of Cyrus’ protectiveness towards his mother with great understanding. This is the performance that the film centers on, and whether or not it pays off makes or breaks the film. Hill gives a performance that while being very funny, is so full of humanity and understanding that you can't help but sympathise with his character.

Kind words must also be said regarding, well, the words of the film, for it does have some terrific dialogue. The script says 'Jay & Mark Duplass' on the title, but one does wonder how much of the dialogue emerged from their script. Being a ‘Mumblecore’ film, much of the dialogue is improvised by the actors. Nevertheless, the dialogue is great. As a relationship comedy, it is important that no grand theatrics emerge. The lines themselves are interesting and very open to interpretation. This helps create some of the films greater moments, with the actors throwing in the odd glance or intonation as they are speaking the dialogue. In acting terms, these are wise moves, although I doubt that the acting would have been anywhere as successful without such strong words. Importantly, the dialogue is 'real-world' dialogue, so you can imagine people saying them. It gives credibility to the story that might have been denied if the actors had something more ridiculous. Also, thematically I did like the central idea, and the interesting parallel between the relationship of John, Cyrus and Molly and that of Jamie, John and Tim (is John the 'Cyrus' in this relationship?)

The final aspect of the film that is really worth praising is the cinematography and editing. Now, these aspects don't do anything drastic to stand out, but as far as stylistic purposes go, they are handled wisely. As I have mentioned, this is a relationship comedy about real emotions and real people, so the cinematography and editing work in parallel to capture this. Jas Shelton keeps the camera static, often having the camera placed away from the acting. Not only does this give the actors space to work, it also adds a certain voyeuristic element for the audience watching this unfold. It must be said though that this would not work without Jay Dueby making the wise choice as editor to let these shots play out. He could just as easily have gone for a more showy form of editing, but instead works with Shelton to complement the film's naturalistic tone.

Cyrus is a film that has a lot going for it. However, there are problems inherent with the way it is made that deny it from being one of the best comedies of the year. Much of these problems come from writer-directors Jay & Mark Duplass. It is obvious that the two display talent from the work here. Cyrus is a comedy that stands out in the extremes of not just comedy but all genres of films. However, the Duplass' great failure as directors is being unable to give enough of a 'heart' to their film. While the dialogue and the actors do their best, after watching Cyrus I couldn't help but have the same feeling that I got from watching any other industrial-factory produced film. Good intentions there may be, but Cyrus is a movie that while trying bravely does not translate heart well enough to audiences. I wanted to be there for the entire film, but the directors just did not make me want to care enough. It doesn't have to be spelled out or said, but all art gives off messages, and whether or not these messages are translated properly in film is up to the director(s).

I am not scapegoating the Duplass' just to criticise the film, but they really are the reason as to why the film doesn't work. Not only do they fail as directors, but they also fail as screenwriters. Granted, the dialogue is good, but how much of that can be attributed to the Duplass' is anyone’s guess. My main problems involve story, structure and thematic content. The story as a concept is strong, but it is fuddled up along the way. What starts off as an interesting film heads down the line of predictable, nuts-and-bolts things we have seen done before in so many other romantic-comedies. With regards to structure, much of the film is a buildup to a certain 'event', an 'event' that proves to be one of the year's most intense scenes and is handled very well. However, the events that follow this 'event' are so deflated that you simply feel that the Duplass' have run out of ideas and are simply going for broke. As a result, the whole final fifteen minutes disappoints and though good scenes individually, do not fit in with the rest of the film. Finally, though the thematic content is handled well, it is not handled well enough. There is stuff in Cyrus that gives us an impression of what the entire work could have been like. However, the whole relationship dynamic is not pushed far enough. I am not asking for some ridiculousness stuff that would be out of the realm of the real world, but surely the 'overprotective son' stuff could have been pushed further. If wanted a real, razor-edged relationship comedy, why not give Cyrus an Oedipus complex or genetic sexual attraction? They're just the extreme alternatives, but even if the film went down the tonal line that it does, surely more could have been done? Cyrus ultimately feels like a movie that has went from Point A to Point B at furthest.

Cyrus has a lot of problems that emerge, mainly from the work of Jay & Mark Duplass, both as directors and writers. They fail to notice the fact that the film feels like assembly-line moviemaking outside of the central concept, which isn't pushed far enough by any means. As a result, it comes across as a candy-floss laced with the occasional stone, as opposed to razor-blade. However, it is a skillfully acted film, particularly from Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly. Also, all three main actors execute the wonderful dialogue well, the saving grace of the script, if indeed the Duplass' did write these lines. Finally, there is a stylistic consistency, as can be observed by Jas Shelton and Jay Dueby's work in the cinematography and editing departments. While a bit of a failure in terms of ambition, Cyrus is a very admirable failure at that, and remains a good, charming film.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 6.7/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Very busy (year-end is approaching, with Oscar deadline being February 27th, so will need to spend at least two/three weeks on my personal year-end awards. Personal choices for films to see would be much appreciated, particularly foreign-language and documentary, good or bad)

P.S. To Jack’s Complete Lack Of Surprise – Still haven’t seen Shutter Island, but I haven’t forgotten and am now properly within my ability to do so, now having a Blu-Ray player in PS3.

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