My Favorite Movies – Cyrus (2010)

10 Sep

By Tanner Smith

Jay & Mark Duplass, famously known as The Duplass Brothers, made quite a name for themselves as heroes in the micro-budget (or no-budget) filmmaking movement. (Many call it the “mumblecore movement,” but even the “mumblecore” filmmakers don’t seem to appreciate that term; why not call it “semi-pro?”) After making short, Sundance-accepted films with no money and making their impressive debut feature “The Puffy Chair” with only 15 grand, the Duplass Brothers had an opportunity to make a film with a bigger budget financed by a studio such as Fox Searchlight. (If their shared autobiography “Like Brothers” is any indication, that preparation process took so long that they made Baghead for cheap in the meantime just to stay creative–great move, guys.)

Whenever indie filmmakers get a chance to show a wider audience what they’re all about, it’s always kind of a risky move. Sometimes, it works, like with David Lowery and “Pete’s Dragon,” Richard Linklater and School of Rock, Mike Flanagan and Ouija: Origin of Evil…and yes, I know those are some strange examples, but try and fight me on their effectiveness. And with the Duplass Brothers, it really works. The film they made for $7 million, and with a cast of great, popular talents such as John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, and Catherine Keener, and made to appeal to a more mainstream audience than their arthouse features, actually turned out to be very funny, very sweet, and very weird–a great mix of their “mumblecore” (er, “semi-pro,” sorry) techniques and the mainstream “dramedy” entertainment they grew up watching.

That film is titled Cyrus.

I appreciated this film when I first saw it long ago (in 2011, I think; I missed its 2010 theatrical release). It’s grown on me even more over time because of its unique mix of dark comedy and romantic drama. And, I must confess, it currently rivals “Baghead” for the position of my favorite Duplass Brothers film.

John C. Reilly, one of the best character actors still working today, stars as John, a lonely guy who is depressed when his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) tells him she’s getting married. Knowing the news is devastating for him (even though they’ve been separated for seven years), Jamie invites John to a party, hoping he’ll meet somebody. And to John’s surprise and delight, he does meet someone: Molly, a quirky, delightful, fun woman who is played with the effortless charm of the lovely Marisa Tomei. They hit it off really well (and partake in a great dance number set to “Don’t You Want Me” by The Human League) and promise to see each other again, but…she has a secret.

John stalks Molly to discover said-secret and that’s when he meets Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly’s 21-year-old son who still lives with her. John finds it somewhat difficult to connect with Cyrus, a grown man who is very attached to his mother (so close to the point that I think he could be reaching Norman Bates levels), whom John is now dating and having sex with. And yes, that is a bit much for John to take in–but Cyrus seems cool about the situation (and even makes uncomfortable jokes about it). But as this dynamic continues and Cyrus is more off-putting and clingy towards his mother, John has his suspicions about Cyrus’ intentions–and we do too, such as, is Cyrus trying to break up John and Molly? What is Cyrus truly all about? Where is this going?

Jonah Hill is absolutely brilliant as “Cyrus.” This film was released in 2010, a time when audiences who were familiar with Hill as the abrasive loudmouth in comedies like Superbad got to see a different side to him as an actor; to see him as this creepy, manipulative sort of man-child is to recognize this talented actor’s impressive range. (And a year later, Hill would star in “Moneyball” and earn his first Oscar nomination.) There are many different levels to Hill’s performance as Cyrus, and the more times I watch the film, the more amazed and intrigued I am by what he accomplishes in his facial expressions, his dialogue, and his attitude.

When John and Cyrus are at wits with each other, it makes for some delightfully dark comedy, with this relatively nice guy trying to figure out what the deal is with this potential psychotic and whether it will damage his relationship with the psychotic’s wonderful mother–and there are moments when we’re looking at it from John’s perspective and finding moments such as when Cyrus and Molly are wrestling together in the park…very off-putting.

But because John is so likable and played by the lovable John C. Reilly, and also because the Duplass Brothers care more about character, we’re not just laughing at the actions/reactions; we’re also caring about the main character and getting to know the other characters through him. When Cyrus’ humanity (his true humanity) does show, it doesn’t feel forced; it feels like a real person with faults and even guilt. And with Molly, it’s not as simple as, oh if only she could just wake up and get rid of this creep of a son–it’s more complicated for her to take sides.

It’s this kind of characterization that many mainstream comedy-dramas lack–those films are about comedy and drama with character, while “Cyrus” is a film about character with comedy and drama. The Duplass Brothers did a wonderful job here, making an indie film with mainstream appeal (or a mainstream film with indie appeal, however you see it).

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