Nearly all my reviews are raves and I sometimes wonder if people think I just love everything. The truth is that I’m pretty selective — my reviews are overwhelmingly positive because I only bother taking the time to write about books and movies I really like. But today I’m going to break that rule because yesterday I saw two movies in one day (at the Seattle International Film Festival) and it provided an interesting study in contrasts.
The first was an indie drama/comedy called “A Little Help”, featuring one of my favorite actresses, Jenna Fischer. I’m a huge and long-time fan of Jenna and her work on “The Office” but, unfortunately, this film is a mess. The dialog is trite and forced, much like a TV sitcom. The characters are under-developed and unbelievable. The plot is full of cliches. Several of the performances are over-acted to the extreme. Even Jenna Fischer does not seem comfortable in her role. There are a few bright spots: Daniel Yeltsky is very good as a tortured tween adapting to life without a father and the original music by Jacob Dylan is lovely, but, sadly, that was not enough to make me care about this muddled movie.
After that disappointment, I saw “Cyrus”, which was a very different story, literally and figuratively. The characters are compelling and believable. The dialog is real and engaging. The story is intriguing. The acting is sublime. Even at a technical level, this movie is interesting: there is extensive use of hand held cameras and extreme close-ups, which has the effect of drawing the viewer into the action. The filmmakers, Jay & Mark Duplass, are known for their minimally scripted, highly improvisational approach to filmmaking, and the result is a very raw and very honest film about real people in a complicated situation.
I find most mainstream Hollywood fare to be “formulaic”, as if constructed by a kind of cinematic Mad Libs, which is why I love and support independent films. But to be successful, a good movie, like any work of art, needs to be original. “Cyrus” is funny, sad, poignant, powerful and entertaining – but more than that, it’s one of the most original movies I’ve seen in a long, long time.