Duplass brothers score with dark comedy
With the likes of John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill competing for the attentions of Marisa Tomei, the Duplass brothers’ new film looks to be an oddball sort of romantic comedy. That impression holds true in the actual event, but only if the oddball elements—an edgy kind of drama and some troubling emotional undercurrents—are given their just dues.
The title character, played by Hill, is the focal point of the film’s discomforting, dark-humored tale, but there are at least four characters of real consequence in this brash little dramedy. John (Reilly) is a sad-sack divorcée who stumbles into unexpected romance with single mom Molly (Tomei), who is similarly lonely and forlorn. When John moves in with Molly, he is also moving in with Cyrus, Molly’s clingingly devoted young-adult son.
Inevitably, the peculiarities of that prolonged mother-son relationship make for some complications in the John-Molly relationship, but it’s not until John begins to pick up on Cyrus’ elaborately sublimated hostility toward him that things really get sticky. Hill’s deadpan Cyrus is an overgrown adolescent, weirdly buffoonish in a wise-child way but also a bit psycho at times.
The main plot thread weaves its way around and through this Cyrus-centered crisis, but the real narrative spark in the film comes from the interplay among a set of charmingly needy characters, each of whom is half-cracked in one way or another as well as a would-be lover scrambling for connections. The fourth figure of consequence in this pattern is John’s ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener), who persists in trying to steer John into a new relationship at the very same time she’s getting ready to take on a second marriage of her own to Tim (Matt Walsh), who is both ambivalent and acquiescent while occupying another corner in the film’s several semi-romantic triangles.
Ultimately, these mildly unconventional characters are part of a mostly conventional romantic comedy-drama. A smart, fearlessly good-humored cast and the Duplasses’ nervous, jittery camera style (judiciously applied in this instance) help ensure that it’s never merely conventional.