Judge Daryl Loomis has never been to a party without having a panic attack.
He thought he met the perfect woman. Then he met her son.
What scant press Cyrus received gave the impression of a very uncomfortable comedy starring John C. Reilly (Magnolia), an actor who has worked his share of dysfunctional families in his career. I anticipated an indiefied version of Step Brothers. Though it moves into somewhat formulaic ground, it's better than that Will Ferrell vehicle and better than most romantic comedies you'll find. Some of that advertised awkwardness is there, but Cyrus is about the characterizations and, mainly, just a really sweet movie.
Facts of the Case
At a party he never wanted to attend, John (Reilly) is drunk, bored, and peeing in the bushes when Molly (Marisa Tomei, Slums of Beverly Hills) wanders into his life. Incredibly sweet and gorgeous, she seems like the perfect tonic to lift him out of the depression he's lived with since his divorce, but she has a complicated life. Her adult son Cyrus (Jonah Hill, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) still lives at home and has a surprisingly close relationship with Molly. As John's intentions with Molly become clear, Cyrus goes on the passive-aggressive warpath, determined to keep John from stealing his mom.
Even with a big name cast, writer/director brothers Jay and Mark Duplass (Baghead) manage to keep a strong indie feel with Cyrus. For me, that's not always such a good thing, but I enjoyed the sweetness of the story and the strength of the performances. It's an insubstantial romantic comedy, but a good one that I could easily go back to for a couple of laughs.
Given its indie pedigree, I was surprised by how conventionally the story plays out. John is still deeply troubled by his seven-year-old divorce from Jamie (Catherine Keener, Into the Wild) with whom he has built a strange sisterly relationship with since the split. She's about to get remarried to a complete tool in Tim (Matt Walsh, Old School), who really hates that relationship. His character doesn't have a lot to do, but his frustration is one of the more amusing things in the film. The centerpiece though, of course, is the battle between John and Cyrus over Molly. Ordinarily, this fight would be between two competing lovers, and in a sense it is, but the dichotomy between lover and son makes for a different dynamic.
No matter how selfish and lame Cyrus is, there's never a question that Molly won't support her son. He may be in his mid-twenties and a total loser, but no mother would ever say her son was anything but beautiful. For a woman as vivacious as Molly, that's only enough for so long. Enter John, whose pathetic life resembles her son's in many ways. He's smart, nice, sweet, just like Cyrus, except she can have sex with John. Gross maybe, but an important distinction in the relationship. John and Cyrus are almost the same person, with John's privilege of Molly's physical affection as the main sticking point. It's why Molly thinks that John, who doesn't seem like much of a catch, is pretty great and worth fighting for. He satisfies the same neediness that she gets from Cyrus, plus the previously mentioned bonuses.
Nothing will surprise you about how the story plays out, but the quality of the writing and the performances keep me from caring all that much about it. With only four characters of any consequence, the actors have to work all the harder to make the story interesting, and everybody does their job admirably. Beautiful though she is, Marisa Tomei shows a level of sensitivity that is very impressive. Reilly holds his own, as well, delivering most of the overt humor while proving himself an acceptable romantic lead. The biggest revelation, as has been noted in plenty of places, is Jonah Hill's work as the title character. The character is deeply insecure and deeply troubled and Hill portrays this on an expert level that I've never seen in him before. Hopefully, this will put him into more roles that aren't the over-worn and often offensive fat sidekicks he's generally known for.
My only genuine complaint about Cyrus is the way the Duplass brothers shoot the film. I wasn't surprised to see it, but the predilection for indie movies and their handheld cameras leads them to zoom way in on people's faces. I know they're going for an immediacy that a big cinematic production can never bring, but a face taking up the entire screen is excessive and ever-present here. There are few whose face I would want that close to my own, and it's off putting. Moreover, at one point very near to the end of the film, the shot goes completely out of focus for no reason and it just looks unprofessional.
From Fox, the DVD is nothing special and mediocre over all. The image is fine, if nothing special. Flesh tones and black levels look good and there are no transfer errors, but Cyrus is no visual feast and the transfer does nothing to make it more. The sound mix matches the image transfer. There's a 5.1 surround mix, but you'd hardly know it. The dialog is clear enough and the music sounds good, but it's the small mix you'd expect from an indie picture. The only special features included are two deleted scenes, one charming and the other sad. The Duplass brothers introduce each to tell why they were cut and why they were included here, and it makes a lot of sense in both cases. A bare bones release for a film that probably deserves a little more.
Cyrus is really nothing terribly special, but it's a solid film. The characters are good and the performances are unexpectedly strong. Jonah Hill shows much more range here than he ever has and his work is the highlight; hopefully, it will vault him into more interesting work, which it appears he can handle. This is the kind of film that, while I'm not that excited about it, I can easily recommend to somebody looking for some light fare.
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