Full disclosure: at a recent press screening of this motion picture, I laughed so hard and so frequently that I was shushed and chastised by not one, but two, fellow audience members. The first chastiser, a fossilized, overtanned old ninny whose cheekbones reminded me of Reggie Nalder's, hissed (I'm not making this up) "I bet you laughed at Sex and the City 2 too!" Which, as we all know, is a bet he would lose. The second fellow, that pasty, stooped-over hack whose shirts are always conspicuously unironed, who I think works for Bloomberg or something, objected to my "cackling." He was also ready, at one point, to give The New Yorker's Richard Brody some shit for sneezing, but thought better of it. The fucking punk. In any case, the point I need to make, because I am going to be registering some not-insubstantial reservations about this film, is that for all those reservations, it did make me laugh, pretty often, and quite hard, and as Roger Ebert has suggested elsewhere, if a self-proclaimed comedy has succeeded in making you laugh, it's done the most significant part of its job, and you finally cannot deny laughter, as much as you might want to seem above it, or something. (As a for-instance: I laughed my ass off at much of Home Alone the first time I saw it, in 1990, and nothing I can say in the aftermath of its obnoxious cultural iconography, or any perceived moral imperative to hold any Chris Columbus project in contempt, can change that.)
So. All the objections you've probably heard already—that the first fifteen minutes or so fill one with dread that this is going to be yet another film about a single drunk white male with problems, that the last ten minutes take back all the ostensible honesty and frankness and willingness to "go there" that had gone before, and replace it with the absolute worst kind of Hollywoodized "he ain't no delinquent, he's misunderstood/we're all sensitive people, with so much to give" sentimentality, that the female character in this bizarre love triangle between the aforementioned single drunk male, she, and her young adult son, is woefully underdeveloped—all hold. And for all that, the fifty or so minutes of extreme discomfort and postmodern Abbott-and-Costello style back and forth banter—the "Don't fuck my mom. Seriously." bit is genuinely, well, classic—between the film's two poles of not-goodness are, to this viewer's particular sense of humor, both cackle-and-guffaw inducing.
Hence, I'm also inclined to believe that the film is both too worthwhile in its particulars, and at the same time finally too generally inconsequential, to necessarily deserve the insistently well-argued takedown leveled against it by Michael Joshua Rowin at Reverse Shot. The need for the takedown comes from what I believe is the mistaken perception that this film represents something like a world-cinema-historical moment, where "mumblecore" meets "movie stars," or something. Or maybe it's just that there's little else for intelligent cinephiles to talk about this summer. But the historical idea was planted when the picture played at the Sundance Film Festival in January, putting some critical advocates of the 'core on the preemptive defensive.
Writing about the film from the Sundance Film Festival, Karina Longworth mused on how, in a film starring more-or-less well known (and in one case, Oscar-winning!) actors, "the classic Duplass anticipatory zooms take on a whole new level of invasive creepiness." Now the veracity/value of this statement rests in whether or not you buy the idea that the zooms that Cyrus is replete with are genuinely "anticipatory." I don't think they are. What I saw in the film were a lot of perfectly serviceable/banal medium shots and medium closeups that were almost constantly interrupted by a sudden, jerky, lunging-forward in perspective. One second, you're looking at John C. Reilly's face as he's saying something; the next, you're looking at his eyebrow, and contemplating just how little hair it has on it, and wondering why that is. The effect, frankly, was rather like taking a sizable slug of high-proof liquor, and having it come directly back up from your stomach, and just being able to catch it all in your mouth before you projectile-vomited it. (I allow that this is a somewhat specialized analogy.) Hence, I cannot say that I found myself even a bit on board with Longworth's later defense: "You could say that Cyrus looks ugly, but that ugliness is an artifact of a working method." What "working method" is meant here? The method of drinking a shitload of coffee before you pick up your video camera, so that your thumb hits the zoom toggle on the handle at pretty much any goddamn time? Because if you tally up the number of zooms in this picture, and examine the contexts in which they manifest themselves, it becomes pretty clear that they really have no compelling reason for being. Here is an instance of a critical defense in which some specificity would have been mighty welcome. The debate over this issue has extended to Twitter, wherein the aforementioned Richard Brody protests the Self Styled Siren's complaints about the film's "unmotivated zooms" by way of making a few snide asides about cinephiles who love old Hollywood (because the Siren loves Old Hollywood, you see), and citing precedents that I don't see as particularly apropos, e.g., "Tag Gallagher tells excellent story of R[ossellini] inventing remote-control zoom. See Rise of Louis XIV—lots of zooms there." And indeed, there are lots of zooms in Rossellini's film, and many of his others, and they vary as much from the zooms in Cyrus as they do, say, from Jess Franco's zooms into Lina Romay's pubic area in 1973's Female Vampire (a fabulous film in oh so many respects!) or Hong Sang-Soo's largely ineffectual zooms in 2005's Tale of Cinema or, for that matter, Hong Sang-Soo's more carefully deployed zooms in 2008's Night and Day. To object to the hallmark of Cyrus' visual one-hesitates-to-call-it-style does not, I insist, make one a fetishist for Old-Hollywood style cinematic "neatness," nor does it make one a Jeremiah-Prokosch style philistine. Yes, Richard, zooms represent a filmmaker's choice. In Cyrus the zooms are chosen in a way that alienates the viewer with no appreciable aesthetic payoff. I'm not saying this to be a jerkoff; I am genuinely curious as to what Brody thinks the value of these shots are, and what they "mean," besides being expressions of a filmmaker's choice.
And here, you see, we reach the sort of critical mass wherein the arguments about the film become more interesting than the film itself, which inevitably leads to the drive off of the cliff, after which we realize that none of it really was all that interesting, or important, or "important," anyway. In any event, if your sense of humor is anything like mine, you might get a few laughs out of Cyrus, and walking in a few minutes late, and leaving a few minutes early, won't kill you. When it comes down to brass tacks.