Despite the ads and display quotes from critics, this is no comedy. If you’re going to it for laughs, you will be disappointed.
Instead, it’s a heavy movie about a serious subject. Directed and written by Jay & Mark Duplass, both John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill take a sabbatical from comedy and venture into serious drama. They are both the better for it.
John (Reilly) is a divorced, over-40 film editor, a simple-minded guy whose former wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener) left him seven years before, but is still on good terms with him. In fact, she acts almost like a surrogate mother. She encourages him to go to a party to meet some girls. He does, and he hooks up with Molly (Marisa Tomei), a massage therapist who is charmed by John’s clumsy attempts to pick up women at the party. When he meets her son, Cyrus (Hill), a 21-year-old New Age musician, the competition begins. This is a fascinating story of the interrelationships among John, Molly, and Cyrus.
Superbly directed, the film produces top notch performances by Reilly, Hill, and Tomei. Although Keener has a much smaller role, I’ve never seen her give a bad performance and still haven’t.
The Duplasses shoot in what seems to be a haphazard way that has come to be known as “mumblecore,” and this is no exception. Director of photography Jas Shelton shoots in a cinéma vérité style with clumsy lens changes to close-ups and makes use of ECUs (extreme close ups). Since I am not a fan of ECUs, I felt fortunate that there weren’t that many.
This type of cinematography is necessary because the film was shot with long takes, some as long as 15 minutes. Since none of the scenes are blocked, the entire set is lit so the actors can go wherever they want with the hand held cameras following them. The actors would follow the script for awhile and then segue into improvisation. To enhance the quality of the improv, the film was shot chronologically so that the actors could develop their characters and really get to know them. This enhances the quality of the improvised dialogue.
The first 15-20 minutes of the film was uncomfortable to watch as it focuses in John’s sophomoric inability to deal with people, especially single women. Further demoralizing was the depressing lower-middle-class aura of John and Molly. Even if they hit it off it didn’t seem like they had much of a future. But the movie picks up in the second half, as serious issues are confronted seriously with exceptional acting and directing.