Movie Reviews
1:48 pm
Sat March 17, 2012

Betting On Two Pairs Of Filmmaking Brothers

Originally published on Sat March 17, 2012 3:42 pm

Call it an accident of the calendar: two pairs of filmmaking brothers both opening movies on the same weekend, both films about the awkwardness of growing up. Jeff, Who Lives at Home is a post-mumblecore slacker comedy from the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay. The Kid with a Bike is a Belgian slice-of-life drama from the Dardenne brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc.

The Kid with a Bike begins with a kid without a bike. Eleven-year-old Cyril (somber newcomer Thomas Doret) has been unceremoniously abandoned at a state-run foster-care facility by a father (Jeremie Renier) who has left no forwarding address. Cyril figures his father must have cared enough about him to at least keep his bicycle safe, so he keeps running away to find it, and finally makes it to his former apartment, which is now empty.

When the authorities come to take him back, he tackles a random bystander — Samantha — and clings to her, refusing to let go and wailing that he wants his dad and his bike.

Samantha, who's played unsentimentally by Cecile De France, is struck by this bereft, angry child. She finds out who Dad sold the bike to and buys it back. She later takes Cyril to find his father. And when Cyril asks, she even lets him stay with her on weekends.

Why does she do all this? An American filmmaker would feel obligated to give her an explanatory back story, but the Dardenne brothers, who tend not to explain much in their eloquently unforced pictures, are content to just let her help this needy kid.

That's not an easy task.

Cyril's a wild child, furious at the world, convinced against all evidence that his father still cares. And when Dad disappoints, Cyril goes looking for father figures in truly terrible places. If you've seen other Dardenne brothers films — where, say, a drifter sells his girlfriend's infant on the black market, or a housing scam for illegal immigrants goes horribly wrong — it will worry you quite a bit when Cyril falls in with a neighborhood tough.

And while The Kid with a Bike finds its filmmaking siblings in what is, for them, an almost sunny frame of mind — they even use musical underscoring to ease a couple of transitions, a first for them — that's hardly the end of Cyril's troubles, or of his tough ride growing up.

The American Duplass brothers traffic in more whimsical down-to-earthiness — shambling, squirmy comedies about the awkward situations real people find themselves in. Jeff, for instance, is a 30-something slacker who — much to his mother's annoyance — still Lives at Home.

Jeff's a doughy, bong-tethered, M. Night Shyamalan-worshipping doofus as played by Jason Segel. Susan Sarandon is his mother, and Ed Helms his marginally more grown-up older sibling, Pat, who is employed and married (to Judy Greer).

That's a big-name cast for the Duplass brothers, who made their rep with low-budget flicks so deliberately scruffy they practically defined the "mumblecore" label. Jeff, Who Lives at Home has the same low-rent vibe as their earlier work and uses indie techniques to get at a need for family and love, in much the same way Kid with a Bike does. There's even an absent father for Jeff and Pat to idealize.

It's hard to escape the conclusion that Cyril is more grown up at 11 than these two will ever be. But this kid looking for his bike and these man-child brothers looking for direction are clearly on a similar journey — one that's infused with warmth by two pairs of filmmaking brothers.

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Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

Two pairs of filmmaking brothers happen to have movies opening on the same weekend. "Jeff, Who Lives At Home" is a comedy by the Duplass brothers. "The Kid with a Bike" is a Belgian slice-of-life drama from the Dardenne brothers. Critic Bob Mondello says the two films are different in tone but are essentially about the same thing: the awkwardness of growing up.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: "The Kid with a Bike" begins with a kid without a bike, 11-year-old Cyril, abandoned in foster care by a dad who left no forwarding address. Cyril figures his father must have cared enough to at least keep his bicycle safe for him, so he returns to their now empty apartment. And when the authorities come to take him back, he tackles a random bystander Samantha and clings to her, wailing that he wants his dad and his bike.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE KID WITH A BIKE")

THOMAS DORET: (as Cyril) (French spoken)

CECILE DE FRANCE: (as Samantha) (French spoken)

DORET: (as Cyril) (French spoken)

MONDELLO: Samantha, struck by this desperate little boy, finds out who his dad sold the bike to and buys it back. And when Cyril asks, she even lets him stay with her on weekends. Why? Well, an American filmmaker would feel obligated to give her an explanatory back story, but the Dardenne brothers tend not to explain much in their eloquently unforced pictures. They just let her help this kid, which is not an easy task.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE KID WITH A BIKE")

FRANCE: (as Samantha) (French spoken)

DORET: (as Cyril) (French spoken)

MONDELLO: Cyril's a wild child, furious at the world, convinced against all evidence that his father still cares, and when dad disappoints, looking for father figures in terrible places. If you've seen other Dardenne brother films - the ones, say, where a drifter sells his girlfriend's infant on the black market - it will worry you when Cyril falls in with a neighborhood tough. "The Kid with a Bike" may find its writer-director siblings in what is for them an almost sunny frame of mind, but that's hardly the end of Cyril's tough ride through childhood.

The Duplass brothers traffic in more whimsical down-to-earthiness - shambling, squirmy low-budget comedies about the awkward situations that real people find themselves in. Jeff, for instance, the 30-something slacker who still, as the title indicates, lives at home, much to his mother's annoyance.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME")

SUSAN SARANDON: (as Sharon) Hello?

JASON SEGEL: (as Jeff) Mom?

SARANDON: (as Sharon) Jeff.

SEGEL: (as Jeff) Hi.

SARANDON: (as Sharon) You know you're supposed to say hello when you pick up the phone.

SEGEL: (as Jeff) Yeah, I know. I thought that maybe you were somebody else, but you're not.

SARANDON: (as Sharon) What do you do in the basement? You're not cleaning it.

SEGEL: (as Jeff) Do you really want to know? You didn't like it last time we had this conversation.

SARANDON: (as Sharon) OK. No. know what? You're right. I don't. I don't.

SEGEL: (as Jeff) OK.

MONDELLO: Jeff's played by Jason Segel. Susan Sarandon is his mom and Ed Helms, his annoying older sibling, a big-name cast for the Duplass brothers. Their rep comes from flicks so scruffy they're labeled mumblecore. But in "Jeff, Who Lives at Home," they use that same low-rent vibe to get at a kid's need for family and love, much as "Kid with a Bike" does.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME")

SEGEL: (as Jeff) I've been having this really weird dream about dad lately. He says, Pat, what's the greatest day in the history of the world? And I'm like, dad, I don't know. And he just looks at me and he smiles and...

ED HELMS: (as Pat) Today. It's just today.

SEGEL: (as Jeff) How did you know that?

MONDELLO: Brothers just know, right, which may be why these two pairs of filmmaking brothers, Mark and Jay Duplass and Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, can bring such warmth to tales of loners: an 11-year-old looking for his bike, and a man-child looking for direction. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.