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Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, John C. Reilly and Catherine Keener. What went wrong?

Cyrus: Rates a D+.
Courtesy photo

A movie opening this weekend I wanted to like so much. After seeing the trailers months ago, I was eagerly anticipating its arrival.

And you won’t find four more talented people in a movie all year (Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, John C. Reilly, and Catherine Keener). And the studio even set me up with an interview with Tomei. Nothing like sitting in a cabana near a swimming pool, talking to a woman I loved in so many films, and wanting to ask her “Why wasn’t this movie better?”

The movie opens with the clichéd scene of the pathetic, lonely man. He’s caught taking care of himself (for some reason, he does that with rap music blaring in the living room, and heavy metal blaring from his headphones in the bedroom…and with an ex-wife that conveniently shows up and has a key to his house).

What takes down this amazing cast, are two brothers – Jay and Mark Duplass, who wrote and directed this film.

The gave us Baghead (What? You missed that one?) and this genre called “mumblecore.” Nothing more annoying than when you have to spend a review explaining a new genre of film, so I’ll skip that. Let’s just say…they get to do a lot of improvising with the script. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t (just ask Christopher Guest). Here, it sometimes does, but usually doesn’t.

And that’s a lot more frustrating than a movie that’s just horrible all the way through.

Like Greenberg from a few months ago, this movie has its moments.

When Jonah Hill asks Reilly if he’s had sex with his mother, or Reilly gets angry at Hill for wanting to borrow a tie for a wedding…these are moments that seem real. They’re awkward, they’re funny, and entertaining to watch.

Other scenes, like Hill stealing Reilly’s shoes after he spends the night, are just bizarre. Nothing is interesting about that, and…would Reilly really leave the house without his shoes? And when he later finds the shoes in the closet, would his mom really not do anything about it? At that point, you just think these guys are all so dysfunctional, you stop caring.

I asked Tomei about the dysfunction, and she said, “Who isn’t dysfunctional?” I wasn’t sure what she meant and she said, “Aren’t we all dysfunctional?” I replied, “Uh…I guess, to some degree.” But the fact is, I don’t think everyone is dysfunctional.

This movie has some interesting themes it deals with – empty nest, Oedipus, loneliness, clinginess – yet there just isn’t enough witty banter to carry this. It’s shooting for being both a dark comedy and serious drama. Yet it does neither of those things very good.

I thought Reilly was going to get into a battle with Hill reminiscent of Step Brothers, but that never happens. Instead, we have Jonah Hill standing in his underwear, with a huge knife at 2 a.m., demanding that Reilly come into the kitchen (to offer him a sandwich, of course). How is that interesting or edgy?

Other times Hill makes me laugh with his deadpan delivery. He has to correct Reilly when he incorrectly mentions how many synthesizers he has, or when he says a song sounds like Steve Miller (“No it doesn’t!”). And we’ve all be in that situation Reilly is in – trying to be nice to a kid we can’t stand. I’ve actually been in a very similar situation – I went on a few dates with a woman that had a 5th grade son. When she invited me over for pizza, the boy asked, “Is Josh spending the night?” She told him, “Yes, but we aren’t going to do anything.”

When the boy went up to his room later, I asked why she thought any of that was appropriate conversation to have with a child. Of course, it became a big argument, and…we didn’t do anything. And I chose never to see her again.

Yet in this movie, well…it’s easy to see why Reilly would put up with a lot to keep seeing Tomei. And when people always say in movies like this, “What would she be doing with him?” Never has that been more true. We see how pathetic he is at the first party he goes to. He becomes a drunken mess who can’t say the right thing, pees in the bushes, but is saved by Tomei, who compliments him on his…uh, penis. They then sing a cute duet of Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.”

I asked Tomei if she was intimidating singing with the guy that sounded so great belting out a tune in Chicago. She replied, “Not really. We were supposed to be drunk in that scene, so…”

When I first saw the movie Rushmore in the theatres, I wondered why the critics were praising it so much. I thought it was cute, but not great. I’ve since seen so many other movies try to tackle love triangles badly, that I’m now starting to think Rushmore was better than I initially gave it credit for.

This movie just meanders a bit too much for my tastes, and there just isn’t clever enough stuff going on.

Again, it has great concepts. Especially when we realize, as clingy as the mom and son are, so is Reilly with his ex-wife Keener.

One scene I thought was interesting involved Keener going to check out the mother-son relationship, per her ex-husbands request. You’re wondering if Hill will be on his best behavior and leave Reilly looking like a paranoid nut. Instead, the mother-son do what they always do. They act affectionate with each other, they wrestle and giggle, and it’s awkward. Yet, Keener likes them and only begrudgingly admits it was a “bit odd.”

Since I never took a film class in my life, I don’t look for little things other filmmakers might be looking at when they watch a movie. That’s why I find it baffling that certain techniques the Duplass brothers used were noticeable and odd.

I was constantly seeing close-ups that didn’t appear to be for any reason. The camera was often shaky for no reason. I wondered if they were still doing an indie film at times, or had never heard of tripods.

Tomei told me she ran into Jonah Hill right after she saw Knocked Up, and told him how great he was in it. This has him telling people, “Marisa Tomei was one of my first fans.” I asked her how hard it was to keep a straight face around him. She smiled and said, “I was cracking up so much.”

It’s unfortunate that you won’t crack up that much with this movie.

It could’ve been a more humorous, interesting character study.

I’m giving it a D+ (D for Duplass).