Tamara Drewe, Stephen Frears, 111 mins, (15)
Cyrus, Jay and Mark Duplass, 91 mins, (15)

A quintessentially British tale of passion and folly – with a touch of darkness too

The movie Tamara Drewe is based on a Guardian comic strip by Posy Simmonds, who in turn found inspiration in Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd, replacing Hardy's overwrought melodrama with her sly contemporary satire. Gemma Arterton easily inhabits the heroine, a temptress with a vulnerable core, who returns to her childhood home in a Dorset village and unleashes all manner of passion and folly.

Directed by Stephen Frears, this feels quintessentially British, with that combination of fondness and mockery of its characters, undercut with just enough darkness to keep it interesting.

Tamara, who left Ewedown as an awkward teenager, returns as a trendy London journalist, complete with nose job, and plans to write an autobiographical novel. It's likely she will be adding a little more material; the local women should start worrying.

The trio of men in Tamara's orbit are Nicholas Hardiment (Roger Allam), a successful crime writer, local celebrity and serial philanderer, whose long-suffering wife, Beth (Tamsin Greig), runs a writers' retreat; rural good egg Andy Cobb (Luke Evans); and preening pop star Ben Sergeant (Dominic Cooper), whom Tamara has fallen for and brought back to the village.

Rather cutely, the plot's motor is provided by none of these adults, but by two scheming schoolgirls, one of whom has a crush on Sergeant, declaring in heartbroken ire, "How come she gets Ben? I've loved him since March." Alongside the girls, the best comedy comes courtesy of Beth's guests, all waiting for the muse to descend.

This is problematic, having more the character of a TV special than a movie. There's no muscle in it. And I couldn't stop myself wondering why I was watching it on a big screen.

With the casting of John C Reilly and Jonah Hill, one could assume that Cyrus is the latest comedy by Judd Apatow or Will Ferrell, targeting a young, male audience. It isn't. And this warm and witty original deserves to transcend such narrow demographics.

It is written and directed by the Duplass brothers, leading lights of the "mumblecore" movement of US independent film-makers, distinguished by their realist approach and believable characters. Stepping up to the mainstream, the brothers offer a romantic comedy whose plot may be delightfully left-field, but presents people whose emotions and frank conversations about them are entirely feasible.

Reilly plays John, a fortysomething divorcee whose self-esteem is so low (he likens himself to Shrek) that he's all but given up on romance. But then he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), who doesn't mind that he pees in the bushes or that his neediness would choke a saint. But John's one shot at happiness is barred by Molly's son, Cyrus (Hill), a 21-year-old, home-schooled oddball who won't give up being the centre of his mother's world without a fight. The battle of wits is dirty and hilarious, the need for companionship, understanding and friendship refreshingly real, rather than romcom rote.

The Runaways is an enjoyable biopic of the trailblazing but short-lived Seventies girl band. Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning flex their muscles away from Twilight as guitarist Joan Jett and singer Cherie Currie – one modelling herself on Suzi Quatro, the other Bowie, each prey to manipulative Svengali Kim Fowley (a scene-stealing Michael Shannon). The Runaways' music is raw and wonderful, the milieu, from Rodney Bingenheimer's famous English Disco in Hollywood to the dreary suburbs and trailer parks the girls are escaping, evocatively recreated.

Nicholas Barber is away

Next week

Nicholas Barber finds out if Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg cut it as comedy detectives in The Other Guys

Tamara Crewe is the subject of this week's Arts Culture Club. Let us know your thoughts on the film in the comments below.

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