To Live and Write in LA

Offbeat Rom-Com Cyrus Premieres at LA Film Festival

(Originally published on blogcritics.org)

“We shot improvisational style and edited documentary style,” explained Mark of the brothers Duplass. Mark and Jay Duplass, screenwriters and directors, used the indie talents they developed on earlier projects to bring to life Cyrus, a creepy romantic comedy which premiered June 18 at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei

John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei

Moving on up to the big-name actor world, the brothers enlisted John C. Reilly (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, The Step Brothers), Marisa Tomei (Untamed Heart, The Wrestler), and Jonah Hill (SuperbadThe Invention of Lying) to tell the story of a funny and disturbing triangle. Reilly plays John, stuck in a life of desperation, in a seven-year funk over a failed marriage. He meets Molly, played by Tomei, while urinating in the bushes at a party. (Tomei’s first line is “Nice penis.”) Despite this exhibitionist-voyeur beginning (does this count as a cutesy rom-com first meeting? I’m not sure), they hit it off and it seems John’s luck has changed.

Enter Molly’s son Cyrus, sure to be a career highlight for Jonah Hill, who discovers John stalking Molly and invites him in to their home. On the surface he is friendly and helpful, but behind the smile is a much too loving momma’s boy who is not about to let John replace him as the center of Molly’s world.

After the screening, LA Film Festival Director Rebecca Yeldham brought John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill (with his young son), and Jay and Mark Duplass to the front of the packed LA Live Regal theatre to answer questions about the film.

brothers Dupass

Filmmakers, the brothers Dupass

Mark and Jay Duplass, who established their indie cred with the micro-budgeted The Puffy Chair and Baghead, filmed this project in Highland Park, about 20 minutes from the downtown LA premiere. They captured the feel of lower-middle class life in the shadow of the glamor capital of the world better than any film I’ve seen since Every Which Way But Loose. Besides the laughs, the film is worth seeing because of the brothers’ ability to draw out subtle performances, full of subtext and pathos.

The brothers Duplass used a technique I’d never seen before. At first, I thought it was a mistake. Characters’ voices continued in voice-over when on the screen they had stopped speaking — like narration, but not directed at the audience. They switched multiple times between on-screen dialogue and voice-over, suggesting a stream-of-consciousness alternating with dialogue. It was jarring at first, but once you understood what was happening, it was a fast lane to understanding the characters.

John C. Reilly said that the brothers had written a great script, but “then they wouldn’t let us use it.” He said that almost everything was improvisational. “We never rehearsed,” he recalled, “and rarely did more than one or two takes. The dialogue came from the characters. It was an interesting way to work.”

And a successful one. Even Jonah Hill’s young son, who joined his dad up front during the Q&A, gave the film “four stars…out of five.”

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