Saturday, July 24, 2010

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Indie Over-Sharing

Cyrus really surprised me. I went in expecting this escalating battle of wits between John C. Reilly and the titular character, played by Jonah Hill, that would only get worse/more hilarious as the film progressed. I thought Cyrus would do everything in his power to drive a wedge between his saintly mother (Marisa Tomei) and her new beau, and new beau John would respond in kind with hilarious tactics of his own. I certainly was not prepared for an honest and vulnerable performance from Hill as a boy fighting against oncoming adulthood. Nor was I ready for a Reilly-Tomei relationship that actually worked, that managed to ring true despite the fact that she's mind-blowingly beautiful and he's, well, Shrek.

Now, it's not always successful. It doesn't quite find that balance between broad comedy and realism, and often you'll find yourself in either one movie or the other. When it goes for a more realistic tone by the end, it's surprising, a little off-putting...but it works somehow. You can thank the actors for that, for Hill and Reilly always manage to keep themselves grounded in reality. Hill, as I've said, is the real surprise here. He can act! Who knew? Reilly is solid, as always, and Tomei's a sweetheart -- though I don't think she always finds her character, you know? Like she's only playing the surface. Maybe there is only surface to her character, since everyone except Cyrus is strangely honest with each other. But again, thanks to the actors, it never comes off as on-the-nose or stilted. That's just how they are.

It was a pretty good time. Oh, sure, the constant and unnecessary zooming irritated the bejeezus out of me, but overall it's a fine movie with some solid performance. Again: Hill. Wow.


Speaking of honest characters. In Please Give, Nicole Holofcener introduces us to six people who are all very blunt with each other. Sometimes, they're passive-aggressive. Most of the time, they're very aggressive. But the trait that binds them all together is this strange habit of saying whatever mean thoughts come into their heads. Also, over-sharing. This movie is about over-sharing, I think. And youth, and our obsession with it. Also, it's about giving, whether it be monetarily or emotionally, whether it be to charity or at home. Because, really, charity begins at home. I think that sums up the last scene, really.

Anyway, the film follows six people from two families. Catherine Keener and Rebecca Hall are the leads, one a wife and mother with that famous guilt upper-class liberals feel, the other a radiology technician who takes care of her grandmother (Ann Guilbert). Keener's bought the grandmother's apartment next door, and is basically waiting for her to die so that she break through and remodel her apartment. She feels guilty about this, and about her job: buying furniture at estate sells and then selling them at her furniture store for more than she paid. She tries to give to the homeless and volunteer, but something always backfires. Hall's character is just naturally giving and dutiful, and though it's difficult caring for her grandmother, she does so without complaint. Hall's sister, a conceited beautician/masseuse/cosmetologist/I don't know what (Amanda Peet), is openly hostile towards Grandmother. Also in the mix are Keener's dorky husband (Oliver Platt) and their self-conscious daughter (Sarah Steele).

Again, a good movie. Good. Rebecca Hall is the especial stand-out (isn't she always?), though Keener is, of course, magical. Platt seems a little miscast to me, and I can't figure out what would lead Keener to marry and procreate with this man. His playing of the role is a little off, too: my roommate said he thought Platt was the gay best friend for the first fifteen minutes. Steele is great, funny and sad as the awkward 15-year-old. Guilbert has little more to do than be cranky, while Peet has little more to do than be a bitch. Oh, but her self-conscious moments are delicious.

But overall? It's just good. When all is said and done, I don't know why Keener chooses to do something that fills her with as much guilt as it does. And their business doesn't really seem to be doing that well, anyway, so it can't be the money. Like, I just didn't understand these people's motivations. Is that the point? Are they just normal human beings fumbling their way through a strange existence? I don't know, but it's not very fulfilling. I could watch it again, but I wouldn't buy it. Unless it was to savor Rebecca Hall's performance again. She's great.


TomS said...

I have been wavering on Cyrus...your review has placed it firmly on my to-see list. We also wanted to see "Please Give" but by the time we were able to get to it, it was out of theaters....
The sad state of film exhibition today....I should invest in my own cinema building.....

Andrew K. said...

I'm very anxious to see what I think of Please Give.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Tom - Ugh, exhibition. Sometimes great, like the three-week run of doc Exit Through the Gift Shop, Sometimes awful, like the one-week run of Mother and Child. And with only one arthouse theater in town...oy. Glad I could sway your vote, though.

Andrew - Well, now *I'm* anxious to see what you think. It's an interesting one, for sure.