By Sean Burns
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jun. 29, 2010

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Opens Fri., July 2

A couple years back there was a craze some idiot in the press nicknamed “mumblecore.” These were films you saw almost exclusively at festivals, characterized by shitty digital video camerawork, incoherent twentysomething ennui and Greta Gerwig getting naked. Gerwig has since moved on to a transcendent performance in Greenberg ; now mumblecore auteurs Jay and Mark Duplass are venturing out for the mainstream with Cyrus .

The brothers, overhyped for shaggy-dog tales like Baghead and The Puffy Chair (Director Jason Reitman, for example, high-mindedly deemed the latter the Breathless of mumblecore), are now taking on a high-concept comedy subject with bona fide movie stars.

John C. Reilly gives his most naturalistic, human-scaled performance since his ‘90s work with P.T. Anderson. He’s a compulsive masturbator enthralled by his ex-wife (Catherine Keener, you know she’d turn up in here somewhere) until finally he meets Marisa Tomei’s fetching, endlessly alluring abstraction.

Problem is, she has a son, the bovine, needy titular abomination. A riff on Fatal Attraction for dudes who hook up with single moms, Cyrus is a series of comic worst-case scenarios blunted out by the Duplass brothers’ gross, allegedly authentic aesthetic that passes on the belly laughs, aiming instead for maximum quiet discomfort.

As the title character, Jonah Hill avoids his usual boorishness, finding a quiet passive-aggressive groove that makes me think we haven’t yet seen quite all this guy has to offer. Tomei is radiant in a nothing role, and Reilly reminds you what an awkward, endearing schlub he can be when not playing Will Ferrell’s lackey.

The cinematography sucks on purpose, but the actors carry the day. Cyrus peters out when it’s just heating up. But as far as mumblecore going electric? Well, I’ve seen worse Hollywood comedies this week. ■

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