Case Number 20213: Small Claims Court


Fox // 2010 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // November 29th, 2010

The Charge

Don't f**k his mom.

The Case

Upon its limited theatrical release a few months ago, Fox very much seemed to be marketing Cyrus as a broad dysfunctional family comedy. The casting of mainstream stars like Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, and John C. Reilly seemed to support this theory, with the advertising campaign playing up the obvious "don't fuck his mom" angle a little too heavily. However in reality, Cyrus is a quirky and reserved effort, a slight comedy laced with some interesting commentary concerning offbeat family dynamics. It's a truly charming motion picture and a pleasantly executed surprise for filmgoers who missed it during its initial and relatively brief run in theatres.

John (John C. Reilly, Boogie Nights) is a struggling bachelor, still emotionally distraught after his divorce seven years ago. His ex-wife (Catherine Keener, Please Give) remains a close friend, but the fact she is set to be remarried only compounds John's grief further. At a party one evening John meets Molly (Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler), an extremely attractive singleton with an unusually sweet nature. Much to John's surprise the angelic Molly quickly takes an interest in him, and the two shoot headfirst into a relationship within days. Things appear to be going swimmingly until Molly reveals her dirty little secret; she has an odd 21-year-old son named Cyrus (Jonah Hill, Get Him to the Greek) who still resides at home with her. At the start this isn't particularly troubling; the relationship between Molly and Cyrus is perhaps a little touchy for John's liking, but in order to be with his new girlfriend he's willing to deal with it. However Cyrus doesn't react as apathetically to the situation, slyly beginning to move against John so that he can once again have his mother to himself.

The film maintains a consistently "indie" vibe throughout, not surprising given it was helmed by the Duplass siblings, two of the bigger names on the independent scene in the last five years. There is nothing conventional about Cyrus bar the meet cute at the movie's beginning; everything else from the tone of the story to the characterization is refreshingly unique. The Duplass brothers (who also wrote the screenplay) have designed a trio of individual screen entities, the filmmakers giving each character an engaging and intriguing personality. The film fleshes out the relationships with depth and honesty, allowing viewers to become actively invested within the low key tale unfolding onscreen. Cyrus is definitely a production more focused on character than plot, the director's using intimate writing and strong performances to drive the movie instead of spectacular storytelling. The central narrative in Cyrus is perfectly acceptable, but it's the three dimensional characterization of the main players which allows the film to flourish as a rewarding watch.

Reilly, Tomei, and Hill are all uniformly brilliant, the latter really moving out of his comfort zone to make the title character a believable presence. Hill never renders Cyrus a totally reprehensible entity, but at the same time infuses him with a subtle weirdo factor that keeps the turn unsettling. Tomei and Reilly have a lovely chemistry together, both thespians delivering well judged and emotive performances. The film makes the audience genuinely care for the future of the central romance, but also keeps Cyrus a somewhat sympathetic figure. His actions are questionable, but his motives come from a place of devotion to his mother, meaning that it becomes impossible to fully despise the character.

There are some decent laughs to be had, but they're of a much darker ilk than the advertising suggests. The dialogue has a very realistic bent to it, resulting in humor that often develops out of a truthful and relatable place. More impressive is the film's backhanded excavation of family life, exploring an unusual maternal bond poignantly, and touching on the effects an intruder can have on such a fragile relationship. Cyrus has more under the bonnet than most features, and the Duplass brothers are insistent about avoiding coating the picture in a layer of false Hollywood pap. From a technical standpoint it's a rather bland looking movie, although this might be a deliberately stylistic choice to enhance the organic feel the picture permeates. Of course it could also be a case of the budget not stretching any further than the impressive cast. The Duplass brothers also wield the camera rather creatively, favoring close ups to capture hidden feelings and mood changes offered by the protagonists. It's just another example of how focused Cyrus is on its band of characters.

The DVD provided by Fox was a screener; as such no assessment of video or audio capability has been made in this review. The technical assets seen on this disc may not be representative of the retail version, and thus no score has been assigned in these areas. The only extra on the DVD (aside from a few trailers and previews) is some deleted scenes, all of which are fascinating, but the film is well paced so their exclusion from the final cut was probably a wise choice.

The Verdict

Cyrus isn't particular heavy fare, but it's a tender and affecting piece of art none the less. Not Guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks
* Deleted Scenes

* IMDb