Cyrus (2010) dir. Jay and Mark Duplass
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener
By Alan Bacchus
It’s exciting to see the staunch indie duo, the Duplass Bros, who have created their own brand of dramatic comedy, whether you want to call it mumblecore or not, step up their game. Well, first off, let’s put stop beating that dead horse, I promise I’ll (try) not to mention the ‘M’ word again.
With Fox Searchlight on board and Ridley and Tony Scott on their backs, The Duplasses have their biggest toybox to play in. They’re able to afford their first ‘Hollywood’ cast, employing McKay/Apatow players John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill as rivals for the affection of single mother Marisa Tomei.
Despite whatever increase in budget these guys were allowed everything else in the film seems to adhere to their usual modus operandi. The Duplasses use simple domestic relationships with an tinge of the absurd to create a quirky but sentimental heartwarming comedy about the fine line between love and war.
Reilly plays John, a late 30-something divorcee who just can’t seem to move on life. His world crashes fully when his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) reveals she’s about to get married. John goes on a wild embarrassing drunken bender at the engagement party, but also happens to meet and impress hottie Molly (Marisa Tomei). Sex comes quickly and so does true love which both people are not afraid to admit to each other. One problem… Molly lives with her slightly deranged man-boy son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) whom Molly is careful integrating into their relationship.
John tries his best to make friends and so does Cyrus, but John notices a particularly strange relationship between mother and son. They literally and figuratively have an open door relationship, where even the most delicate of subjects is not out of bounds. John is completely shocked when Cyrus boldly jokes to him, with poker-faced deadpan if he’s fucked his mother yet.
As John negotiates his way into the relationship he discovers a dubious game being played by Cyrus to get John to break up with Molly. Stubbornly John is not willing to back down resulting in an absurd childish and immature cold war.
Using a creepy false congeniality and a great psychopath stare, Jonah Hill wonderfully creates agonizing awkwardness between the trio. The brothers hold this stalemate out long enough before giving John the chance to pull back the veil of deception and get into the meat and potatoes of the conflict. Under anyone else’s watch in Hollywood, the battle between Cyrus and John would have started much earlier in the film, and heightened dramatically for broader comedic effect. But the brothers stay true to the ‘M’ filmmakers in them and draw out the agony of politeness with each other long enough to make the truth more satisfying.
Cyrus is not completely cynical like say, ‘The Puffy Chair’, there’s a warm tenderness which emerges, not unlike ‘Baghead’. Unfortunately what the final verdict comes down to is that the brothers have just not made their film funny enough to win over non indie-art-house audiences, but the genuine optimism in love and romance makes ‘Cyrus’ a modest though unmemorable addition to their filmography.