LAFF Review: Cyrus

By  · Published on June 24th, 2010

My first big screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival was Cyrus, written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, and starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Jonah Hill.

Ignoring the namesake of the film, Cyrus focuses not so much on Jonah Hill’s twenty one year old, socially maladjusted mama’s boy, and more on John C. Reilly’s character John. John is a schlubby, sad-sack forty something with an interestingly amiable relationship with his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener), who after seven years is finally getting remarried. Jamie drags John out of his rut of sitting at home and barely working, and manages to get him to a party, with the prospect of meeting women.John does every conceivable thing to lay a heavy film of awkward on every female at the party, eventually resigning himself to drunken loneliness. This, of course – is when he meets the very open-minded and exceedingly lovely Molly, played with perfection by Marisa Tomei.

Molly not only seems attracted to John, but actively pursues him – to the amazement of both he and the audience. The only roadblock in their budding relationship is Molly never spending the night. Paranoid that the perfect woman in his life may be hiding something, John follows her home to discover that her secret is a full grown son named Cyrus with mommy issues and a streak of aggressive possessiveness. John attempts to gently insert himself in the little space that Cyrus allows between he and his mother over time, with confusing results.

Therein lies the comedy, and the drama. The trailers lend to an idea of there being a constant battle of wits between Cyrus and John in the attempt to win Molly over and push the other away, but the actual film spreads these moments around thinly, which I was happy with. Cyrus could have been a lot heavier on the comedy or even the darkness, but the happy medium struck in the film left me happy with the results. Cyrus is manipulative, cruel, and self-serving – but it’s very clear that the relationship he has with his mother is the only anchor in his life. He loves Molly, more than anything – and in his opinion, more than anyone ever could. The reason behind this unhealthy closeness isn’t explored in great depth, but it’s hinted at strongly that Molly let herself drift into that iceberg without much of a fight, perhaps even subconsciously steering that boat. In the end, Cyrus focuses more on John’s growth as a man and a partner, and his ability to let go of his past. The same is true of Molly, who eventually has to learn how to love her son without allowing him the power to destroy her ability to be actively and openly loved by others. Again, this is really Reilly’s movie, with a strong backup cast.

Hill does an excellent job of portraying Cyrus, but I still feel like it’s mostly Jonah Hill doing a Jonah Hill character. He still makes the expected dirty jokes, the timing and tone is the same as in anything else you’ve seen – I hope whatever he does next that isn’t Apatow-esque will completely do away with any aspect of the familiar. I say this because Jonah really does shine during the dramatic scenes in Cyrus. He does rage and hurt very well; much more expertly than I would have expected given his body of work.

Tomei, again, is lovely as Molly. She’s genuine, warm, and really blends the strength of being a single mother to a very unique child with the vulnerability that comes from the other side of that coin. She’s been burned by men vanishing upon dealing with Cyrus, but she has a thread of hope in her that is very endearing.

I think my biggest issue with the film is John C. Reilly, and it’s mostly due to my access to other work that he’s done. He’s developed a new voice over the last few years that definitely comes from his interactions with Judd Apatow, Will Ferrell, and his Adult Swim fame. The guy is fantastic at drama, was always clearly funny (Reed Rothchild anyone?), but the funny seems to intermittently take over scenes that just – aren’t. He’s great through most of the film, really, but I’m not so sure that it’s a good thing that after he speaks a line, I expect him to finish with, “…for your health!”

That aside, Cyrus is an easy movie to slip into and thoroughly enjoy, the characters have depth and substance, and the story is engaging.

The Upside: Strong cast, crisp and well written story, doesn’t overdo the drama or the comedy.

The Downside: John C. Reilly channeling Dr. Steve Brule from time-to-time.

On The Side: When your ex has a key to your apartment, never… you know, do certain things with music turned up inconveniently loud. You’ll see…

Grade: B+