Film #25: Cyrus (2010)
Cyrus is a comedy-drama written and directed by the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, and released in 2010. With the exception of its professional actors, the film has all the hallmarks of the indie “mumblecore” movement that the Duplass brothers partake in: Low-budget filmmaking that’s character-based and dialogue-driven. The tenets of mumblecore can be divisive enough for a movie-going public more acclimated to high-concept films; Cyrus doubles down on its disconcertion by featuring a nearly incestuous Oedipal relationship. Plenty of people are probably interested in this movie based on its cast. Many will probably end up disappointed.
Personally, I absolutely loved it.
John (John C. Reilly) is in a rut. He has been for the past 7 years, apparently, ever since his wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) left him. They remain friends, though, so in order to get him out of the house, Jamie forces John to come to a party with her and her new fiance Tim (Matt Walsh). Although John has an awful time at first, his drunken pity parties scaring away even the homely lady guests, he ends up attracting the absolutely gorgeous Molly (Marisa Tomei). They hit it off in conversation, rile the rest of the party into dancing to The Human League, and eventually go to John’s and sleep together. They’re both really into each other, and things are finally looking up for John, until he follows her home and runs into her 20-year-old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Cyrus and Molly have an unusually close relationship – best shown when he uses the bathroom while his mom is taking a shower – but he still seems like a pleasant-enough guy. Pretty soon, though, John begins to suspect Cyrus of manipulative passive-aggression.
Cyrus is weird, make no mistake. Strange social tension is at its foundation. For most of the movie, the characters interact on the brink of total awkwardness. Jonah Hill is the reason this feeling is so pervasive. Hill’s deadpan is flawless. It’s truly impossible to interpret Cyrus at first. Does he have some kind of personality disorder? Is he being passive-aggressive? Or is he actually sincere, and he’s just a bit of a weird guy? I’m sure you can already guess what the reality of the situation is (a combination of the first two), but the movie rides it out for a while, not revealing Cyrus’ true colors until he outright lies to John and Molly separately. Meanwhile, Hill plays every note perfectly. Say what you will about the range of his acting ability, but Hill is unmatched when it comes to playing awkward.
What I liked most about this movie was the relationship between John and Molly. They’re both intelligent and communicative individuals. There’s no inflated drama between them caused by superficial misunderstandings, because they talk to each other, explain themselves, and are both just really into each other. It’s always tiresome when characters have a problem with one another that could easily be resolved if they just talked openly and honestly. John and Molly avoid that entirely. They have a happy and healthy relationship, it just happens to have a huge problem in the form of Cyrus. That’s not to say they don’t have any flaws – John is a little pigheaded and prying, Molly a little oblivious about her relationship with her son. But they constantly forgive each other for these slight deficiencies, and it’s very refreshing to see an even relationship in a film, with both characters equally head-over-heels for one other.
This is one of the most realistic and honest movies I’ve ever seen. In fact, the whole reason John and Molly wind up talking is because she overhears his very honest attempt at conversation. This realism comes with plenty of caveats, though. For one, the movie consists almost entirely of just dialogue. It’s a constant cycle of dialogue-based scenes and character-developing montages. This was fine for me, but I could see it becoming a bore for others. My problem came with the Duplass brothers’ implementation of a “realistic” style. The film is shot in the documentary fashion that was put on the map by The Office. The Duplasses abuse it, though, constantly fidgeting with their focus and zooms. It’s a style that suits some 30-minute comedy shows; for a feature-length film, however, it grows irritating quickly.
(**Spoilery paragraph!**) The third act is marked by open hostilities between John and Cyrus, after John finds proof of Cyrus’ insincerity in the form of a hidden pair of shoes. Ever obstinate, John threatens Cyrus, akin to kicking a powder keg, and tries to stronghand the son into obedience instead of going through the difficult conversation with Molly explaining that her son’s a bit of a sociopath. This boils over when Cyrus, drunk and upset, tackles John at Jamie’s wedding. The film could have taken the easy route, having Molly believe Cyrus that John was the aggressor, but John and Molly are too open for that. She listens to John’s reasoning and has a much-needed discussion with Cyrus about their insular relationship. John’s at first reluctant to continue trying with Molly, believing Cyrus will always be a threat to their stability, but Cyrus apologizes for his actions for the sake of his mother’s happiness, and the film ends happily. This might seem like a total lack of drama to some viewers; I found it refreshing to finally see intelligent characters working through their problems and coming out on top. (**End Spoileries**)
Cyrus is an interesting and unorthodox movie. It’s considered a comedy-drama, and while it definitely has hilarious moments, it’s not an uproarious laugh-a-minute film, which may disappoint some uninformed viewers. It does have plenty of drama, though, with its character-focused story acted out by an absolutely spectacular cast. Cyrus certainly isn’t a movie for everyone. But it is definitely a movie for me.
Final rating: 9/10
–James A. Janisse
- “Plan B. Get more drunk.”
- “Are you flirting with me? This is insane!”
- “I’ve been wanting to talk to you man-to-man.” *slides over plate with PB&J sandwiches with the crusts cut off*
- This honestly might have gotten a 10 if it wasn’t for the damn cinematography. Besides that technical aspect, Cyrus struck me in all the right places
This entry was posted on March 19, 2012 by James A. Janisse. It was filed under 9 - 9.5, Comedy, Drama, Genre, Ratings and was tagged with catherine keener, duplass bros, duplass brothers, jas shelton, jay dueby, jay duplass, john c. reilly, jonah hill, marisa tomei, mark duplass, matt walsh, michael andrews, michael costigan, mumblecore, ridley scott, tony scott.