John, a lonely divorcé (Reilly), falls in love with the beautiful Molly (Tomei), whom he meets on a rare night out, encouraged by his ex-wife and best friend, Jamie (Keener). Following Molly home one night, he meets the other man in her life: her 21 year-
Here's an idea for a high-concept comedy, tailor-made to fit Adam Sandler’s new middle-aged career phase. He’d play a down-on-his-luck divorcé whose relationship with the woman of his dreams is stymied by her slightly twisted grown-up son. With a team of scriptwriters and polishers, and maybe a producer credit for Judd Apatow, it would have all the makings of a cookie-cutter Hollywood comedy, somewhere between 2008’s Step Brothers and 1997’s Addicted To Love.
Despite the presence of heavyweight executive producers Ridley and Tony Scott, a team of scriptwriters and polishers didn’t get their hands on the concept, and Adam Sandler didn’t get anywhere near it. Instead, writer-directors Jay and Mark Duplass, the iconoclastic filmmaking brothers behind quirky Sundance hits The Puffy Chair and Baghead, cast sad-sack specialist John C. Reilly as the hapless divorcé, threw in Catherine Keener to confirm the project’s indie credibility, and let the entire ensemble improvise around a loosely structured script, capturing the results — often hilarious, occasionally heartbreaking — with a cinéma vérité style more commonly seen in documentaries and edgy cop shows.
The result is one of the best indie comedies in years, demonstrating with each new set-up that the Duplass brothers’ method — giving the actors a loose script outline, then shooting the scenes in order, allowing them to find their own truth in the characters and situations — creates an extraordinary sense of realism, like a Mike Leigh movie played for laughs as well as emotions. With actors like Reilly, Tomei and Keener aboard, it’s fantastically effective, but even up against that level of talent, it’s Jonah Hill who emerges as the winner, brilliantly understated in a role which almost anyone else would have overplayed.
If there’s a bum note, it’s that Jay Duplass’ camera employs the zoom-and-capture technique of TV series 24 a little too freely, occasionally distracting from the acting. Cyrus isn’t the best-looking film around either, its production values more John Cassavetes than Tony Scott. But these are minor wobbles: this is a major achievement from all concerned.
The Duplass brothers enter the mainstream with a touching, original and supremely funny film, whose improvisational style sets it apart from other comedies, and marks the emergence of two major new talents. Great performances, too.