too many cookies


After being dragged to a trendy party, divorced, washed up editor John (John C.Reilly) falls in love with, ageing in a cute,  blow the dust off a 1960s Audrey Hepburn way, single parent Molly ( Marissa Tomei.) All would be well but for a rather large son, the eponymous Cyrus, whom Molly has over indulged in attention, jarringly inappropriate affection and way too many cookies.

Cyrus, Jonah Hill, fresh from the Greek, glares and glowers throughout, belying the jolly fat Billy Bunter persona, edging to a near sinister dimension before being brought back to this side of amusing to continue a battle to maintain control of his mother’s affections against the equally wily suitor’s machinations. These machinations are not to be confused with the opening scene’s machinations of an almost rhythmic elegiac fashion, one thankfully not given the fashionable 3D treatment. But once given the Hollywood treatment it proves that even if caught with your white Y fronts down by a soon to be married ex-wife you may still triumph in the love stakes and not even go blind.

John, who describes himself as “like Shrek”, pathetically tries to elicit sympathy for his frustrated plight from his soon to be married ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener): a relationship not dissimilar in a Cyrus type way that hinders his ex- wife moving on. But if you were being a tad more charitable to the home schooled control freak Cyrus, you could view it as a lonely immature twenty-one year old who is scared of losing his mother, a mother who seems to be the only stable force in his sheltered life. One whom he sees and spends allocated time with everyday.

freaking out his mother’s lover

Cyrus, the third feature from the Duplass brothers, moves along with some minor if not unwelcome distraction when the action would seem to demand a sardonic retort only for a Kubrick style moment, as when Cyrus stands in the kitchen in the dark early hours, knife in hand making a snack and freaking out his mother’s lover. It reaches the brink of being daring and exploring the darker side of an intensive relationship between mother and son. But much like its failure to capitalise on its three well versed exponents of comedy it steps back. It is never laugh out loud funny, or sinister in a claustrophobic omniscient manner that promises harm and destruction, as with unwelcome visitors or house mates like Mr. Bates or Michael Keaton’s fantastic portrayal of Carter Hayes the dodgy lodger in Pacific Heights. And if they ever make the Fred West story can John C apply the slightly further West Country accent than mid west beyond west coast?

Cyrus seems perfect fare for autumn with colours that seem to have been washed and graded after a 1970’s autumnal checked flannel shirt advert to make sure you’re home for Thanksgiving. The washed out hues reluctantly seep into a subdued score that plays to the drama but understates just to make sure you haven’t drifted off.

“inhabit the character truthfully”

And at a lean 91 minutes you’re unlikely to snooze as it trundles along following a through line that talk of improvisation often destroys. But not in this instance as the Duplass brother’s style of improvisation is about character, as they say: “Inhabit the character truthfully, and to say the things that feel organic to you in the moment.”  Unusually for a studio movie Cyrus was shot chronologically, as the Duplass brothers believe it works better for the actors as the characters develop. This was done in spite of the limitations of a 30 day shooting schedule with 2-3 digital cameras running. And with no need for reshoots it was brought in at under 7 million dollars. The editing process took 9 months to reduce the 80 hours of digital footage to the final version shown. Those years in the 90s that the Duplass spent in Austin, Texas, running an Avid editing business were to put to good use, as they say: “…cut every crappy movie that came out of Austin at that time.”

It’s a long way from their 2003 short “This is John” made for the 3 dollar price of a video tape that managed to get them into Sundance.  And even since making their well received 2005 road movie, The Puffy Chair their film making ethos has remained unchanged. Their budgets may have increased but as they say: “Focus on story, acting, performance and let all the technical stuff go by the wayside.”

These are early days in studio movie making for the Duplass brothers. The mumblecore themes are still there, as are the disorientating zooms and pans that wouldn’t have been out of place in Greengrass’ Green Zone. But as they say themselves: “We are not the Cohen brothers. And we don’t make movies like them because they are really good at it. And we are not” They may not be the Cohen brothers as yet but it will be interesting to see how their Jason Reitman produced effort  “Jeff who lives at home” turns out.

Here’s what I thought:  You’ll want to lock your doors after watching this.

Sneaky Watch Peek: Two sneaky peeks.


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