By Ryan Parsons | Image property of Fox Searchlight
A John C. Reilly/Jonah Hill comedy in other hands would be a high concept vehicle. Under Fox Searchlight and the Duplass brothers, it’s a refreshingly real character movie that just happens to be darkly funny.
John (Reilly) is a divorce who you can’t help feeling for. Even his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) tries to help him get out there and meet women. Reilly does the awkward party flirting scenes honestly, making him endearing. His sincere confessions are more funny than pathetic.
He meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) in a sort of fake cute cliché situation, the sort where the hero encounters “the one” because they just connect at exactly the right time. Still, they sell it way better than the usual Matthew McConaughey movie. There is a positive tradition of romantic comedy meetings, and this is one of them.
Reilly continues to convey the sweetness of an appreciative everyman. His innocent desperation makes action that could be creepy seem okay. I guess it’s easy for a swingin’ ladies man like myself to appreciate why a less fortunate character might project gratitude at the generosity of a compassionate companion. I assume that’s what one might relate to if one has lived through those feelings themselves.
Then John meets Molly’s son Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Assuming that Hill and Reilly improvise and embellish the script, these two really know how to turn awkward banter into a comic set piece. This is a movie about people talking, and these people are good at it.
The weirdness of Cyrus is just obscure enough to be funny and edgy. It’s not the sanitized Hollywood romantic comedy. There’s no gimmick, just characters who play things out in funny ways. They even talk about their conflicts like grown-ups, which is awesome.
The camera jerks and zooms, but it still stays focused. After Green Zone, that seems like Oscar worthy cinematography. It’s edited really well for the timing too. The audience at the South by Southwest screening got it. Just cut to Jonah Hill’s eyes at the right moment and that’s the punchline.
Whether you personally relate or not, it’s easy to imagine a grown-up kid making a new relationship difficult, cringing at it and rooting for John.