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'Cyrus': A Loose, Low-Key Kind Of Crazy

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'Cyrus': A Loose, Low-Key Kind Of Crazy

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'Cyrus': A Loose, Low-Key Kind Of Crazy

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Over the last 10 years, the name mumblecore has come to describe a type of independent film: low, low budget, often improvised, with non-professional actors. Brothers Jay and Mark Duplass qualify as mumblecore moguls, but their latest movie, "Cyrus," is more upscale.

It has stars and big-studio backing. Does it still have the mumblecore vibe? We asked Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO: John is a sad sack: big and fleshy, a nice guy, but as played by John C. Reilly, kind of lost. Oh, he has excuses. He's still smarting from his divorce seven years ago, and he can't believe his ex has moved on, but even he thinks he should be able to put up a better front. Drunk at a party he's been dragged to, his attempts to pick up women get shot down so often he barely even tries to make conversation after a while.

(Soundbite of film, "Cyrus")

Mr. JOHN C. REILLY (Actor): (As John) Why am I even I can't talk to you. What am I doing? I'm just going to mess this up because you're a really hot girl, and I'm just I'm sorry.

Ms. MARISA TOMEI (Actor): (As Molly) You're not messing it up.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Are you flirting with me?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. REILLY: (As John) This is insane. I'm like Shrek. I'm like what are you doing? What are you doing here in the forest with Shrek?

Mr. TOMEI: (As Molly) I wouldn't say that. I was going to be pee in the bushes, and you took my spot.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Really?

MONDELLO: This is Molly, played by Marisa Tomei. And she is, indeed, flirting with him. She goes home with John and starts seeing him. But no matter how intimate they become, she always slips out of his apartment before dawn - and never invites John to her place. Finally, he goes over anyway to snoop, and gets a surprise.

(Soundbite of film, "Cyrus")

Mr. JONAH HILL (Actor): (As Cyrus) Hi.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Oh, hey, hi.

Mr. HILL: (As Cyrus) What's up?

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Sorry, what am I doing?

Mr. HILL: (As Cyrus) It's OK.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Hi.

Mr. HILL: (As Cyrus) Can I help you?

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Is this I think I have the wrong address, actually.

Mr. HILL: (As Cyrus) What address are you looking for?

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Is this does Molly live here?

Mr. HILL: (As Cyrus) Yeah, can I ask who is asking?

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Oh, I'm sorry. I'm John. I'm a friend of hers.

MONDELLO: Let me just stop here for a second to note the loose, improvised feel of this conversation. When people talk about mumblecore, it's this naturalness, usually captured with handheld cameras, that they mean.

John is supremely awkward, and he sounds supremely awkward here, right? OK, now the payoff.

(Soundbite of film, "Cyrus")

Mr. HILL: (As Cyrus) I'm Cyrus.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Cyrus?

Mr. HILL: (As Cyrus) Yeah, her son.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) Her son, yeah, I know, yeah.

MONDELLO: But of course, John didn't know. Molly neglected to mention the chubby, clingy 21-year-old she was living with, possibly because their relationship is so close, there's not much room for anybody else.

John quickly senses a passive-aggressive edge to Cyrus's apparent friendliness and before long, they're locked in a ferocious competition for Molly's affection...

(Soundbite of film, "Cyrus")

Mr. HILL: (As Cyrus) (Whispering) You are out of your league.

Mr. REILLY: (As John) (Whispering) I will knock you out.

MONDELLO: Always pretending, of course, that they're the best of buddies when Molly's around.

Now, it's easy to see how this could turn coarse and conventional in the wrong hands. Jonah Hill, who plays Cyrus, has mostly been in slapsticky, commercial comedies. This, happily, isn't one, and he's dialed his personality way back.

What's left is sort of a bottled-up menace that audiences will likely find nearly as unsettling as his rival does.

Because this is a Duplass brothers film, nothing's ever allowed to go over the top. The filmmakers prefer a squirmy kind of comedy, all about the awkward situations that real people find themselves in. And with these performers, the vibe stays down-to-earth and almost entirely unpredictable.

Unlike any other Hollywood comedy I've seen this year, "Cyrus" was still keeping me guessing at the final fade - something I wish I could say more often.

I'm Bob Mondello.

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