Why Him? ****

Want to be entertained in a Meet the Parents / Father of the Bride kind of way this festive season? After all, for many of us, spending time with the ‘outlaws’ is happening right now – and for some, for the very first time. Why Him? from the former comedy’s screenwriter, John Hamburg, is just what you need. It also stars Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame in the lead comedy role that would suit Steve Martin any day.

Ned Fleming (Cranston) is invited to Silicon Valley to meet his daughter Stephanie’s (Zoey Deutch) new beau Laird (James Franco) and spend the holidays with them. Trouble is, Laird is a boundaries-less bundle of unpredictable energy, but a successful gaming software whizzkid. As old-school meets new tech, the sparks fly, but are Ned and Laird actually two peas in a pod?

It’s easy to dismiss this comedy from first glimpse of the snappily edited trailer. It does look like many other family-feud storylines. However, it has Cranston in superb comedy flow, plus hilarious set-ups that are allowed to fully ripen for full funny effect: Take the ‘space-aged toilet misunderstanding’ moment between Ned and Keegan-Michael Key as Laird’s advisor Gustav – often in The Pink Panther Kato style, as referenced in the script.

Utter silliness is still the order of the day, and some might be put off by the presence of two decorated members of the Judd Apatow film-making gang – this stars Franco and is co-written by Jonah Hill. That said there are some very astute observations about the fear of being ‘left behind’ in the tech race and in business in general, plus generation-gap differences that make the writing more superior to former comedies, rather than adopting the Apatow man-boy/stoner humour – even though this is in there too.

You do have to first buy into Franco in fine stoner form for all this to work, which prompts an initial eye-rolling reaction. However, his being judged by ‘Walter White’ is delicious to behold. Another gem is Will and Grace’s Karen – squeaky voiced toned down. Megan Mullally plays Ned’s wife Barb who tries to go with the flow and embraces new experiences. However, she is not merely the usual, coy ‘mumsey’ character that these comedies lazily add in, rather a comedy force to be reckoned with in each scene. That’s the beauty of this comedy; all the characters are strong individually.

Why Him? is obvious in its story direction – totally predictable in fact. The skill is how well it gets there and produces ample belly laughs to really enjoy along the way. For Cranston fans, it’s a world apart from Walter and even Trumbo, but it shows this great actor’s chameleon acting skills, and is another highly entertaining offering in the mix.

4/5 stars

By @Filmgazer

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Sausage Party ***

Sausage-Party

Emphasis on the word ‘sausage’ usually sparks juvenile sniggers from most grown-ups. Seth Rogen capitalizes on this in his raunchy new adult animation Sausage Party – the mere name triggering winks and nudges. This is a Pixar p*** take laced with Rogen’s preferred brand of stoner humour. Those not avid fans of the latter can still catch some laughs, but might tired long before the riotous finale of filthy food porn commences.

Rogen is Frank, a hotdog who is desperate to get inside Brenda the bun (voiced by Kristen Wiig) when they finally leave the supermarket and go home with one of the ‘gods’ (us humans). They need to be picked off the shelf and taken outside to ‘the great beyond’. But disaster strikes when one female god goes shopping, leading Frank and Brenda on a journey back to the shelf while trying to avoid enraged Douche (Nick Kroll).

However, Frank soon learns the disturbing truth about what the ‘great beyond’ really spells for grocery products, backed up by his deformed sausage pal Barry (Michael Cera) who survives a close shave. Now Frank needs to convince the rest of the food population about their fate, before it’s too late.

Sausage Party is created by Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jonah Hill, collaborating with Apatow disciples Paul Rudd, James Franco, Bill Hader, Danny McBride and the like, so you know the kind of film you’re in for, long before you ‘Get your fill’ (quoting the tagline). It’s pure filth, like consuming the dirtiest, calorific dish, awash with cheap ‘laughs’ at stereotypes along the way – Salma Hayek is horny Mexican taco Teresa, for example.

While it offers some crazy insights into the USA’s religious, racial and socio-political obsessions, Sausage Factory also prefers shock tactics to cultivating really clever puns consistently throughout that would have seriously sent up these American neurosises and Pixar’s cute character, coming-of-age adventures, where their world is oblivious to us. There are some seriously laugh-out-loud moments – just wait until the end crescendo, but F word-ing it in every sentence begins to wear thin, bordering on nauseating – and this is coming from a critic who is no stranger to a foul-mouthed rant.

It’s also hard to tell if Sausage Party wants to be taken seriously for its plethora of brilliant observations, as it just as quickly shies away when one of them becomes vaguely interesting, for fear of losing its infantile edge. That said the kitchen scene is a delightful Pixar-bashing episode, and a much needed highlight to break up the otherwise ‘samey’ plot of Frank et al trying to return to the shelf. Douche gets pumped ready for action but loses his spunk at the end; perhaps too much of a main plot distraction or an excuse for Rogen and gang to explore some anal humour? There was certainly a lot of fun had writing/ making this buddy movie, it appears.

Sausage Party goes off with a saucy sizzle and an outrageous bang but wilts at times along the way. If it wasn’t for the grand gang-bang finale boost, it would be a meaty disappointment left undercooked in places.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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War Dogs ***

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If War Dogs, The Hangover director Todd Phillips‘s new war dramedy is meant to entertain in his distinctive bromance-worshipping way, then it serves its purpose as it follows the highs and lows of a volatile male-on-male relationship. Indeed, it does rely heavily on its stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller’s chemistry, plus a generous dollop of Hill expectation as the actor has made ‘cuddly’ sociopathic characters his new forte.

David Packouz (Teller) is a male masseuse for the rich who is trying to get enough money together before wife Iz (Ana de Armas) gives birth. When he sinks all their savings into a stock pile of luxury cotton sheets and fails to sell these to Miami’s old-people’s homes, his unlikely ‘saviour’, unscrupulous old school chum Efraim Diveroli (Hill) appears on the scene with a proposition that could make him rich quick.

David can join the small-time arms trade and become a ‘War Dog’ like Efraim, looking for the crumbs – small arms contracts touted online by the US Government – and bid on them. As the money starts flowing in, the mother of all arms deals comes up – a 300 million dollar contract to arm the Military to the teeth in Afghanistan. That’s when the problems begin and the whole operation unravels, as the War Dogs must rely on elusive, Grade-A War Dog, Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper) to get a shipment out of Albania.

As the story goes, this is Hill as Efraim’s big moment, his very own The Wolf on Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort, completely absorbing with his maniacal, high-pitched laugh that both delights and disturbs. Hill ought to be commended for making the film bigger than it actually deserves to be. We never like his character and are waiting for him to do the dirty – well, we get told he will throughout. However, we do relate to the lure of his naked ambition. In fact, his character is far more intriguing than Teller’s, even though we are forced to believe the latter; David is our constant narrator and seems to get into more bother in the plot. Teller does as great a job with what he’s got to work with.

The film does miss a trick in being blacker than it is, merely dabbling in the dark side but swiftly returning to safety when the central rocky bromance waivers. We are meant to care about this relationship, even though we don’t quite buy it. Even Cooper’s shady middle-man arms dealer is just not threatening enough to give the film more of a sadistic edge it needs. Ironic, as at the start, David has a gun pointed to his head, setting up the high stakes of the dangerous war game they are in. We never get a real sense of that, which is a shame.

That said there is an infectious, erratic ‘goofiness’ to all the boys’ dealings that totally entertains, like two young city traders dabbling in dealings way over their heads. It tries to be a mix of The Lord of War, The Big Short and a Scorsese gangster buddy film, without really delving into what actually makes the characters tick – apart from the money. Indeed, even de Armas is left hanging, supposedly our moral compass but going off piste all the time – one minute appalled by David’s new business venture, the next supportive as it pays the bills. She just comes across as the typical, irrational (try gullible) new mum, all hormonal, and hardly a decent female character worth remembering. At least The Wolf’s Margot Robbie character doesn’t lie down and take it from her Wall Street rogue.

War Dogs is far from perfect and a wannabe imitation of a Scorsese film it aspires to be – queue the characters’ references throughout. However, Phillips has started ‘something’ of interest here, if he can just combine his skill of crafting bromances with a more developed and pitch-black comedic script in the near future. For now, there are enough laughs with Hill and Teller in action to make War Dogs highly watchable – especially Hill, plus it raises some interesting talking points of global government corruption. This is hardly shocking, but will have you shaking your head all the same at the cost of the ‘war business’.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Wolf Of Wall Street *****

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If the Devil were running a company, Stratton Oakmont, the dubious stocks-and-shares brokerage house founded by infamous (former) white-collar criminal Jordan Belfort would be it. In fact, Belfort was possibly Satan incarnated. The 80s/90s antics of the real-life character – now a respectable businessman who has a cameo at the very end – is pure screen adrenaline for a new Martin Scorsese film, and it’s one devilish, entertaining white-water ride.

Charismatic New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort starts up his own firm after repercussions of Black Monday in the late 80s and some career advice from then mentor Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), determined to make money whatever the cost to his family life or health. Belfort’s easy success is followed by debauchery, excessive drug taking and total, unadulterated greed, co-run by partner-in-crime Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill). When suspicions are raised over the company’s brokerage dealings, a federal investigation is launched, sparking Belfort to try removing the evidence – his money – to a safer haven abroad. But with so much money at stake and greedy people on the payroll, things begin spiralling out of control and the net is closing in.

With such a controversial subject matter displayed with hedonistic vigour and richly black humour on screen, there is bound to be accusations of ‘glorifying’ Belfort’s old ways. It’s ripe for the taking by Scorsese who does unflinching storylines like no other, and he doesn’t hold back for the faint-hearted. Indeed, to appreciate just how out of control and excessive things got, there has to be major visual shock value, with no editing, enough to make a present-day audience blush or giggle in disbelief.

The only ‘admiration’ you may take away from this is the ballsy, ‘will to win’ stance, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. Belfort at the time was a tragic character and from the moment he’s snorting coke off a hooker’s backside, all his actions are despicable and predominantly selfish, but you do get caught up in the buzz, as much as anyone would with ultimate power at their fingertips, with the chance to opt out of life’s authoritative constraints. It’s pure escapism, Scorsese style.

Brought to life by the filmmaker’s muse, Leonardo DiCaprio – who is long overdue a big, impressive part like this, Belfort makes Gatsby look like an absolute beginner in the affluence stakes. DiCaprio injects as much brashness, narcissism and irresponsibility possible that he’s invigorating in the role, one of his most enjoyable in years. Only one actor steals his thunder initially, admittedly long before the rot sets in; McConaughey as equally narcissistic teacher Hanna triumphs in another memorable but brief role that precedes the release of the noteworthy Dallas Buyers Club.

Scorsese’s cast is a dream team like his Goodfellas days of glory, complete with Hill as toothy Azoff – supposedly based on real-life firm successor Danny Porush. Hill as Azoff finally shakes off his cuddly ‘best bud’ image that he’s best known for in lots of Apatow bromances. Those characters only dream of what Azoff has. Indeed, Hill has found a character to despise who is so repugnant that he deserves all he gets. It’s a career-redefining moment for Hill and a tonic to witness.

The Wolf of Wall Street is stuffed with humour as much as bank notes and coke that it becomes part of the film’s fabric, as we wait for Belfort and co’s own market crash. In the meantime, it has one of the funniest but most surprisingly desperate drug scenes in a film in a long time when Belfort is trying to get home that on face value seems to belittle addicts’ plight but actually reinforces the utter worthlessness. Scorsese offers a daring and great night out at the cinema for anyone needing a break from austere reality and wanting his or her money’s worth, or without paying through the nose for 3D. Do not miss the chance for a bit of chest thumping.

5/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Watch *

The prospect of a comedy that sounds like a possible ‘contemporary Burbs’ remodelling, starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill is an intriguing one. With the addition of one of British filmmaking and comedy’s brightest stars in Richard Ayoade to add a little spice to the mix, battling alien neighbours, The Watch should be a sure thing at the box office this weekend. But those expecting a US Attack The Block will be sorely disappointed. The only winner out of this crude and lame excuse for a bromance is Costco – even Ayoade is a disappointing shadow of his usual witty self.

Good citizen Evan (Ben Stiller) is a likeable manager of a Costco store who returns to work the next day to discover one of his employees has been brutally murdered. Determined to get to the bottom of the cause of a possible neighbourhood killer on the prowl, he tries to get a Neighbourhood Watch group up and running. Unfortunately for him, the only willing attendees are big-mouthed, under-the-thumb Bob (Vaughn), weirdly disturbed and angry Police Academy reject Franklin (Hill) and eccentric Brit Jamarcus (Ayoade) – all more interested in forming a regular boy’s night in of beer, babes and bad jokes than keeping suburbia safe. But all four soon have they hands full with extraterrestrial invaders who are using Costco’s services to the fullest.

Indeed, there were such high hopes for a ‘2012 Burbs‘, a good-hearted suburban fiasco. However, these are knocked off the road map by OTT frat-boy idiocy and bodily-parts jokes that drown out any interesting relationship development and possible charming comedy rift between the four chalk-and-cheese characters. It’s as if relative writing newcomer Jared Stern and Pineapple Express and Superbad’s Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg have been at the brewskies themselves while penning this, going overboard with the crass humour, without being at all clever about it. It’s a disappointing result that could have been highly entertaining. Even throwing in sub-plot issues with each member and the standard oafish cops does little to elevate the status quo.

All the leads play the same-old, tired characters we have seen them do countless times before, adding nothing new: Stiller is a nervy goody two-shoes; Vaughn is Detroit’s token shouty, motor-mouthed lad; Hill is the oddball with dark hidden secrets; and Ayoade is an off-colour Moss. If that’s your bag, take The Watch as it comes (and no more), with lots of run-of-the-mill, flash-bang effects while groaning at the blatant Costco’s advertising of ‘it’s all under one roof’. Quite so: it’s all predictable, off-the-production-line superstore comedy, marketed as a sci-fi fan-boy’s lighter bit of fluffy entertainment. And the aliens – seen them, zapped them all before. Which reminds me, must do a Costco’s run…

1/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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The Sitter **

Jonah Hill may appear to have grown up in Moneyball, and got some intellectual credibility in an adult environment, but he reverts back to the same self-depreciating man-boy role we all know him for in David Gordon Green’s new mainstream comedy, The Sitter. It’s really a half-hearted, mischievous Noughties twist on zany 1980s comedy adventure, A Night on the Town – more commonly known as Adventures in Babysitting, starring Elisabeth Shue, but minus the hot babysitter and the child-friendly fun.

Hill is immature Noah Griffith, a suspended college student fixated on one sexy girl down the road, Marisa (Ari Graynor), who he gives ‘personal favours’ to. Planning to hook up again later that night, Noah begrudgingly agrees to stand in and baby-sit instead, so that his mother can go on a date. Inexperienced and out of his depth, Noah is tasked with looking after the neighbours’ three dysfunctional kids: an anxiety-riddled, pill-popping, closeted son called Slater (Where The Wild Things Are’s Max Records), a potty-mouthed, celebrity-wannabe daughter called Blithe (Landry Bender), and adopted Hispanic son Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez) who is hell-bent on causing maximum disruption and has an unhealthy interest in cherry bombs. Against the parents’ wishes or knowledge, and with an urgent errand from Marisa, Hill ventures into New York City with the kids to visit drug kingpin Karl (Sam Rockwell). What seems like a fairly straightforward task snowballs into utter chaos, and a few life lessons are learned by all.

Green and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka never step out of the original 1980s’ mould, delivering the inevitable wild night combination of freaked-out anti-hero babysitter, out-of-control weirdo kids who come to respect their minder, and crazed bad guys on their tail; even the drug explosion incident in the car fails to be fully exploited, sidelined in favour of safer flatulence jokes. However, in true Pineapple Express style, the filmmakers have overloaded the expletives and borderline-offensive racial stereotypes, dished out the serious drugs and turned up the volume, possibly so Hill’s character Noah doesn’t seem as annoying as first thought. That said Hill easily plays within his comfort zone here, dripping with sarcasm and harsh home truths that it merely helps enforce what makes him appealing to fans in such coming-of-age comedies, rather than offers anything new to his CV.

In all honesty, the film’s hit-or-miss first impression all hangs on the opening scene, which gets down to business and firmly establishes this film’s R-rated, frat-boy stance of the Apatow-school ilk. Unlike the original, Green and co aim for the outrageous, rather than the genuinely funny to grab shock laughs; even down to young Blithe’s musical tastes and choice street slang – it’s only funny because it’s a naïve and corrupted kid delivering the adult lines, even though Bender does a commendable job. The real humour is actually in the background and random supporting acts that bolster the whole insanity, especially around Karl’s aerobics lair. Nevertheless, Rockwell is still enjoyable to watch, camping it up with guns blazing, but never giving anything different from the token drug dealers in Pineapple Express and the like.

All of the above absurdity needs to have a purpose, and Hill as Noah is perfectly positioned to be the unwitting messenger and ironically, the voice of reason to coax the kids out of their respective troubles. Green peppers the film with elements of Noah’s unsatisfactory existence, conveniently laying the blame for this screw-up on a parent. Disappointingly, this allows Noah to come out of this virtually unscathed, simply by wearing his heart on his sleeve that leads to the inevitable healing process for him and his charges. The Sitter is a lazy, write-by-numbers dramatic comedy that even has nauseating time for picking up a foxy lady. The end result is neither poignant nor clever – unless you’re a confused kid with identity issues, aged 15+, so some good could come from watching this.

2/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Moneyball ****

At first glance, Moneyball will ignite interest among Brad Pitt fans. On second glance, it will turn some away because of its baseball subject matter. Sports films are an acquired taste and will never fully convert those who are not into the sport in question. Therefore, as one of the latter, Moneyball is a real eye opener, and not because it suddenly stirs a dormant interest in the sport, but because the baseball could be argued as being the parallel theme to the overriding one of the ‘little guy’ taking on and shaking up the system from within. In this sense, there is something to be gained from it.

It’s based on the true story of Billy Beane (Pitt), the once would-be baseball superstar who still hurts from his failure to live up to expectations on the field and turns to baseball management. It’s nearly the start of 2002 season, and Billy’s small-market Oakland Athletics (the A’s) have lost their star players to the bigger, wealthier clubs. Billy must rebuild the team and compete on a third of the payroll. He discovers and hires whizzkid, Yale-educated economist Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) who believes in Bill James’ computer-driven statistical analysis to win games, previously ignored by the baseball establishment. Together they challenge the old baseball guard by installing overlooked or dismissed baseball players, based on a combination of key skills, and begin winning several games in a row.

Moneyball plays out much like any other baseball film but with a couple of narrative twists. Even though you don’t necessarily need to know anything about baseball, naturally, Moneyball will have a greater impact on someone who does possess the historical and factual elements of the game. It’s essentially an inspirational David verses Goliath film, a topical corporate shakedown story that anyone can relate to in this day and age, and it’s all down to the Pitt-Hill chemistry that keeps you engaged.

As co-producer and star, Pitt takes on by far his biggest film challenge yet with Beane and shaping this story to appeal to a wide-ranging audience. He is as courageous as his dynamic and daring character that’s the film’s driving tour de force. Pitt is strikingly reminiscent of a younger Redford and his gutsy turn in the 1984 baseball film, The Natural. Everything really hinges on Beane’s actions and reactions that keep things scintillating to watch, with Hill as Brand as the ‘voice of reason’ in the corner in a straighter stance, much like his character Cyrus in the 2010 film. In fact, Hill again demonstrates that taking on the straighter-laced roles where he can diffuse the tense with intelligent, deadpan humour input is his true acting forte.

Thankfully, Pitt’s infectious energy transcends the wordy baseball mumbo jumbo, and the passion that all involved feels for the game shines through. Part of this is the sense that both you and the characters are venturing into the unknown and want to see change in an unbalanced system. The script glosses over the ones and zeros and endless charts of the analysis and manages to make a coherent narrative out of Michael Lewis’ complex book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”. Again, this is down to the winning onscreen team of Pitt and Hill, but more so because of award-winning The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin being part of the scriptwriting team.

Capote director Bennett Miller turns to his muse, Philip Seymour Hoffman, to portray the stubborn face of the old system by casting the actor as Art Howe, the A’s team coach. Although against the statistical invasion of the game, Howe is delivered a chance to know what it feels like to succeed against all adversity, with the A’s winning 20 games in a row, which broke an actual AL record in 2002. As an underdog himself with little say in his team’s makeup, Howe begins to appreciate how the ‘misfit toys’ – as the players are called – can have their glory, and it’s spiritually uplifting to watch.

Thankfully, Miller does not take the conventional, backslapping route at the end, and throws up a few satisfying surprises where his lead character is involved. Sadly, the system wins, which admittedly does have the sense of defeated purpose. However, Moneyball has to be taken as one of those films where the journey is more important than the end result, and it’s one of guts, determination and sporadic humour. Full credit to Pitt, too, for creating an ingenious and unorthodox career-defining role for himself at this stage in his varied career.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Megamind – 5*

Everybody loves a superhero, especially one who is not so ‘super’ at what they do, and one that has flaws we can relate to. Meet Megamind, a large, blue-headed klutz who just wants to be loved and accepted, which is what makes him so endearing from the word go.

Megamind is the most brilliant super-villain the world has ever known, but is also the most unsuccessful, propelled to Earth in a Superman fashion, after the demise of his own planet. Over the years he tries to conquer Metro City, but fails, thanks to his nemesis, the perfect and gallant caped crusader, Metro Man. Then one day, Megamind succeeds, but far from feeling elated, the criminal mastermind realises his game and purpose is over with no adversary to tackle. That is, until a new villain threatens Metro City, and Megamind finds himself in the unusual position of the people’s hero who gets the girl. Yes, it’s textbook stuff, but it’s the execution that makes this animation of the same name stand out from the chaff of 3D offerings of late.

Megamind is a sharp, vibrant and nutty example of why DreamWorks is light years ahead in 3D-animated storytelling. It’s super energetic super-villainy at its finest that delivers a mega-lovable, oddball rogue for all ages, within a solid, good-verses-evil tale that tugs on the nostalgic strings. It also delivers just the right balance of endless imagination and adult humour that won’t bore the kids, even if it does provoke the odd groan at times.

It’s also a true 3D experience, with no shadowing or unnecessary indulgence, but effects of the highest production values seen this year that only add to the fun you’ll have following Megamind’s antics. For entertainment value, it’s fair to say this is on a par with The Incredibles, even if it emulates the latter, complete with wit that’s laced with sarcasm from its animated cast, with Will Ferrell a pure tonic as Megamind’s voice, Tina Fey as his love interest, Roxanne Ritchie, and an almost unrecognisable Brad Pitt voicing testosterone-fuelled Metro Man.

Megamind is a real pre-Christmas 3D treat for all the family that can only be seen on the big screen for full, eye-popping effect and zeal. You’ll be tickled and touched by Megamind, and walk away with a big, soppy grin on your face and a feeling of contentment greater and more delicious than any Christmas dinner.

5/5 stars

By L G-K

Cyrus – 4*

Imagine a hot lady (Molly, played by Marisa Tomei) approaches you at a party, after you’ve made a prized fool of yourself. She sees endearing qualities in you that nobody else can – and on first glance. There has to be a catch, surely? There is for ‘Shrek-described’ looker, divorcee John (John C. Reilly) in the shape of seriously freaky family baggage, an adult son called Cyrus (Jonah Hill) who is unwilling to share mom Molly. It’s a nightmare situation for any aspiring step-parent.

Hollywood’s finest young talent in subtle comedy writing, the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, have penned another bittersweet and touching comedy relationship drama, only this time for the mainstream crowd, shot in a docu-hand-held style to inject a sense of realistic but anti-romcom-contrived gloss to it: Imagine a far cry from the likes of a Nancy Meyers sugar-coated environment of suburban bliss that smothers you like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day. Duplass comedy takes very real scenarios, then highlights and picks away at the growing relationship crevices, albeit suggestively, re-visiting old wounds and not giving you any clues as to whether the fledging romance will stand the course of its scrutiny. It’s a very personal and intricate style of film-making, designed to charm, challenge, and celebrate unconventionality – almost like a Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) format, but it will appeal more to the average cinemagoer.

Cyrus is a man-boy with techno-music aspirations who sees his warm, funny and hip mom as more of a best buddy and life companion than a parent. Their relationship has been an unconventional mother-son one that simultaneously tries to question the effects of spending too much time in each another’s company and plays as the fascinating sub-text to this story. In fact Cyrus has more in common with French cinema’s obsession with close-family relationships, bordering on incestuous leanings, than anything Hollywood has dared tackle of late – and in the comedy bracket. Nonetheless, in true Duplass style, this analysis is merely implied as food for thought, whilst you remain tickled and entertained, not pressed on the consciousness, rather angling for shrewd receptiveness from its audience.

Apatow-schooled Hill masterfully fills the role of Cyrus with his usual offbeat and inquisitive ramblings, like an overgrown prepubescent kid hungry for more knowledge. As in art as in real life, Hill is not your conventional movie star, making this whole new raft of comedy since the days of Superbad a stimulating offering, but one that needs to explore a new tangent if it is to remain fresh. Therefore, Hill gives an unsettling and unpredictable performance as Cyrus who has a slightly chilling agenda, but one not so unbelievable as to have his character bordering on pantomime. What keeps the comedy, its credibility and the Cyrus character grounded is Cyrus’s swing between frightened youngster and manipulative, unhinged adult, displaying all the responses we might in turn feel, if our comfortable existence was about to change.

The fluffy humour associated with the ‘com’ in romcom actually stems from John’s assumptions and reactions to Cyrus’s next move, almost like the joker and facilitator in the proceedings that keeps the irony apparent and defuses any tension – helped by superb performances from recently-screen-absent Tomei and Catherine Keener as Jamie, John’s best friend and ex-wife. It is always a pleasure to watch someone as multi-faceted as Reilly cutting his teeth on darker issues, but never neglecting the self-depreciating comedy he is best known for. Thankfully, he leaves the somewhat nauseating idiocy at the door, maturing in character role-playing in this. It is at the ending that Reilly gets to deal a new hand that keeps things interesting, but it would have been more satisfying to see his character allowed to go further in response, plus the ending seems to be a bit of a standard romcom cop-out and the only predictable element of the film. Perhaps the Duplass clan had another non-studio-appeasing ending in mind?

All in all Cyrus marks a comedy triumph for the Duplass Brothers and its cast in keeping its affairs unpredictable, but also familiar in response to its subject matter, without forgetting to thoroughly entertain us at the same time. It is a Duplass quest to hit every note in the emotional relationship spectrum that is essential for good comedy these days, but all with a flare of effortlessness that they are bound to become known for.

4/5 stars

By L G-K