In the last few years a strange little genre called mumblecore has been starting up on the fringes of Hollywood, movies in which young, somewhat articulate people talk a lot (a lot) about their feelings and don't do much, but somehow manage to be both relatable and entertaining. At the same time, a strange little genre called the romantic comedy has been foundering, trapped in the same formulas and star vehicles and consistently failing to feel anything like love.
The notion of mixing mumblecore honesty with the traditional Hollywood rom-com format sounds disastrous, but indie stalwarts Mark and Jay Duplass have pulled it off beautifully in Cyrus, the most charming and hilarious and truthful romantic comedy I've seen in ages. Starring John C. Reilly as a loser improbably getting a chance at love with the likes of Marisa Tomei, Cyrus blends the verite reality of mumblecore films like Humpday with the heightened sensibilities of the rom-com, bringing a level of believability to the genre that Billy Wilder and Ernst Lubitsch-- hell, even Nora Ephron-- never could have imagined possible.
Though John (Reilly) is smitten and amazed when Molly (Tomei) comes home with him after a party, there's a catch and a good explanation as to why this beautiful woman would want him. His name is Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly's 21-year-old son still living at home, still needing Mom's help to get over his night terrors, and still so attached and protective of his mom that John immediately feels threatened, even if he's not quite sure why. John and Molly's connection is palpable, but she's seemingly unaware that her son is a bit of a nut with a vendetta to ruin her new relationship. It's never occurred to Molly before that loving her son this much could be counterproductive.
John and Cyrus's battle of the wills leads to some hilarious one-upmanship-- middle fingers behind their backs, glares over the breakfast table, all that-- but also some insightful reflection on how love can be suffocating, and how the best way to care for someone is often to let them go. The Duplass brothers tread very, very lightly on the emotional stuff-- Cyrus is primarily a comedy, and a tremendously funny one-- but their indie-bred gift for capturing humanity in just a few frames gives Cyrus a depth that truly sets it apart.
None of the three lead actors have exactly been known for their naturalism in the past, but all slip nicely into an acting style that straddles the line between ridiculous comedy and a story that could be happening down the street. The Duplasses play brilliantly with the sense of comfort that comes in a romantic comedy, that secret assurance that we know how things will play out. Because the movie bears that mumblecore label of realism, there's an actual suspense to this film's particular will-they-or-won't-they. By not changing the romantic comedy formula and instead bringing their own style to it, they create something wholly original, a skewed mirror on Hollywood that lovingly turns the old tropes around.
Cyrus is stellar and hilarious and by far one of the best things to come out of the festival so far-- and lucky for you, Fox Searchlight made it, so it'll be arriving in theaters Little Miss Sunshine-style before you know it. I'm just bummed that I have to wait until then to see it again.
For more of our Sundance 2010 coverage, click here.