At a time when lo-fi music is getting a lot of attention from critics and listeners alike, it’s not surprising to find a similar movement emerging from film. Dubbed “Mumblecore,” these movies forsake high production value for handheld, affordable cameras and a production style that emphasizes improvisation – whether it be camera angles or dialogue. The posterboys for Mumblecore are Jay and Mark Duplass, two brothers that have gotten some attention for their movies including Baghead, and last year’s Humpday (both of which are availible of Netflix Streaming.) They’ve come far enough that, despite taking advantage of low-budget limitations to inform their films’ style, their newest film, Cyrus, was actually financed by a major studio.
Whereas you can easily imagine filmmakers doing totally different things with their budgets when they expand from five to seven digits, it turns out that Cyrus keeps the same aesthetic. The only difference here is that, instead of using themselves and their friends as actors, Cyrus has some pretty well-known talent in front of the camera. John C. Reilly stars as a lonely man that doesn’t expect to ever find that special somebody, only stumble into a totally interested and cool Marissa Tomei. The catch? Her 21-year-old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) doesn’t want him in her life.
The traditional idea of what could come out of this story would be an all-out war for the affections of Tomei’s character, but that’s not what the Duplass brothers are interested in giving us. Informed by their style that easily evokes documentary or reality television, they’re never interested in the easy laugh or silly characters. The movie presents people that are more relatable than entertaining, and rarely does the movie break out in overt domestic belligerence.
But a last-act story revelation, one that changes the tone of the film to a slightly more somber one, doesn’t quite pull itself off. The Duplass brothers are interested in the imperfect and the awkward, and maybe it was unfair of me to expect something closer to the Step Brothers antics of frenzied male competition; but often the realistic also happens to be the less interesting. To some degree, you just have to shrug off their anti-climactic style as their own aesthetic – and all power to them for doing something different. But at the same time, compelling filmmaking it does not make.
Perhaps I’ve undersold it, though. On a fundamental level, I don’t like a lot about what the Duplass brothers do; but it’s impossible to deny that what they do, they do very well. Cyrus breathes easily, introducing you to organic characters and a strong, clear narrative. It’s also a funny movie, and will hold well as a comedy even if its more of a drama.
It’s a strong and complete movie, I just wish it weren’t so interested in being flavorless.