Cyrus (2010)

16 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Cyrus” has the plot of a family sitcom pilot—a single mother meets a new guy and her son tries to separate them for his selfish reasons. But make the story into a gritty independent comedy-drama, make the couple relatedly likable, and make the son an over-20, creepily-wholesome man-child, and you get “Cyrus.”

Despite the casting of John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, and Catherine Keener, Judd Apatow was at no point involved with “Cyrus.” You’ll notice that just by the camerawork and gritty tone delivered by low-key indie directors Mark and Jay Duplass. It’s dark and subtle, with a few comic moments to even things out.

It starts out pleasant enough, as John (John C. Reilly), a relatively nice guy, is suffering an emotional blow. His ex-wife (but still-friend) Jamie (Catherine Keener) is marrying her boyfriend Tim (Matt Walsh). Even though they divorced years ago, the news that his ex-wife is marrying again is a bit much. But Jamie knows this and accompanies him and Tim to a party where she hopes he and a single woman will get along great. After some reluctance, John goes and meets Molly (Marisa Tomei). They hit it off pretty well, and even perform a karaoke version of “Don’t You Want Me” together. But after their first night together, she leaves a note where she should be on his bed. And when they see each other, she always leaves too early. With the slight suspicion that maybe she’s married or seeing someone else, John follows her home and discovers her secret—her grown son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) who lives with her.

Cyrus seems like a good-hearted, somewhat-normal guy, though he does have his creepy moments as he seems just a little too wholesome. And his relationship with his mother is a little too cute to be true (or comfortable). And quite possibly, he might have a mental disorder, as he sometimes freaks out in his sleep in the middle of the night. But he also has something else in mind as long as John continues to see Molly and soon, John and Cyrus are at wits with each other.

This is treated more seriously than you would expect, but there are some light comic moments for relief. The comedy is never broad or extreme—the raunchiness is never exploited (no nudity, though there is some sex). Instead, the humor comes from the realism of the situations that play off in this script and execution. These characters aren’t caricatures of other such characters in this sort of film (or story, at least); they’re treated as real individuals with plenty of interaction to give them all dimensions. Even Cyrus has his moments of humanity, despite his reputation as a creepy man-child.

All four principal actors are great. John C. Reilly is instantly likeable and is completely relatable throughout the movie. You totally feel that he is connected to this character and script. Here, he reminds us of why he became a well-respected actor in the first place, before he joined Will Ferrell in comedies such as “Talladega Nights” and “Step Brothers.” Marisa Tomei just has to smile, and she has us invested. She’s as delightful and appealing any other role she’s played. The always-reliable character actress Catherine Keener has more dimensions to Jamie than you might expect from an ex-wife character. But what really counts the most is the casting of Jonah Hill as Cyrus. Hill is absolutely perfect in this role. Instead of pulling his usual schtick you see in comedies such as “Superbad” and “Funny People,” it’s interesting to see what he does with this character of Cyrus—normal when he can be, slightly psychotic other times.

“Cyrus” is unusual, but with an effective mix of sweetness and peculiarity. It doesn’t treat its characters as a mockery and doesn’t go for the easy way out with the drama or the comedy. Sometimes it can be inconsistent, but mostly it’s a brilliant piece of work.

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