Sibling writer/directors Mark and Jay Duplass are figureheads of the Mumblecore movement – ultra-low budget, largely improvised films featuring non-professional actors – and after earning praise on the American indie circuit for their films The Puffy Chair and Baghead they’re bringing their sensibilities into the mainstream. Cyrus is the brothers’ first studio film and the first chance for UK cinema audiences to find out what the fuss is about and, on this evidence, the buzz is justified. Cyrus is (in this writer’s opinion) the best comedy of the year so far: unique, surprising and featuring a brilliant lead performance from eternal support player John C Reilly, it’s fresh and funny in ways that a traditionally-scripted comedy could never be.
The story centres on John (Reilly), a composer whose life has come to a standstill, a fact rubbed in by his ex-wife’s (Catherine Keener) announcement that she is remarrying. Hope arrives in the form of beautiful and inexplicably single Molly (Marisa Tomei), but then John meets Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly’s 21-year old son, and discovers a co-dependent mother-son relationship that the word ‘unhealthy’ doesn’t begin to describe.
In the hands of conventional filmmakers, this would be just another high-concept comedy bearing no resemblance to real life, but the Duplasses focus on drawing believable characterisation from their actors in even the broadest comic scenarios, resulting in supremely awkward but breathtakingly truthful comedy. Reilly shines, and Hill’s performance is also brilliant, unsettlingly poised between scheming and vulnerable, so that even the film’s apparently neat conclusion is undercut with ambiguity.
General release, Fri 10 Sep.