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Sundance Review: Cyrus

By  · Published on January 24th, 2010

Long have I been a fan of awkward comedy. Or more specifically, comedy that thrives on situations where two characters quite simply don’t belong together. It’s what makes bits of movies like Step Brothers very entertaining and films such as The Promotion absolutely brilliant. I mention these two films because they share a common thread, that of having John C. Reilly as a headliner. In both films, Reilly was in perfect comedic balance with his co-star (Will Ferrell and Sean William Scott, respectively). This thread continues in the Fox Searchlight release Cyrus, which sees Reilly matching wits with Superbad star Jonah Hill.

Matching wits is the appropriate description, as this is a Duplass Brothers film. I’ve long been a fan of their work as well. Of all the writers and/or directors who write movies, then allow their casts almost unlimited freedom to improvise on set, they are two of the best. In this case, they wrote a full script for the story of John (Reilly), a depressed guy who has not had much luck dating, until he meets a lovely woman named Molly (played by Marisa Tomei). But once it came to filming the story, which involves John going head over heels for Molly but coming into contact with her fully grown, well-attached son Cyrus (Hill), they gave their actors plenty of room to breath.

The result is one of the most awkward, yet thoroughly hilarious movies I’ve seen in a long while. It is a play on the classic new man vs. protective son story, done in the raw style of Duplass. In the same way that they made The Puffy Chair and Baghead very real, subtle comedic wins, they give Cyrus life through their choosing of wonderful actors. Reilly and Hill prove their talent in the individual moments that make up the greater whole. Early on, the movie relies on John C. Reilly alone to play up the sweetness, but complete desperation of John. But once Cyrus is introduced, and he decides that he would no longer like John to be “fucking his mom,” the game is afoot. From there, it is a race of emotional and situational manipulation. And it’s funny, because every situation is more awkward than the next.

If this is your bag – and it certainly is mine – you’re going to be batty over this movie. It’s a spruced up, mainstream (read: more expensively produced) affair for the Duplass Brothers, but its success makes a case for their ascension from the ranks of indie filmmakers making movies for $20 and a handshake. Their camera work is still very active, their characters are still very grounded (but at times very enigmatic), and their jokes still land on time. And their ability to put the right people in the right roles makes all the difference. If it weren’t for Reilly and Hill and their palpable on-screen chemistry as rivals, this movie would have been a rather run-of-the-mill comedy with an omnipresent camera.

To their credit, Fox Searchlight has made the right choice in bringing the Duplass Brothers to the next level. As I’ve explained, this movie is an example of how their work can be glossed up (a bit) and sold to mainstream audiences. Cyrus is a simply funny affair with one very sweet, likable main character and one batshit crazy adversary who has noble intentions. It is the best we’ve seen from Jonah Hill and yet another in the long line of wonderful performances from John C. Reilly. And if we gain anything besides the obvious entertainment value at hand, it is that the progression of the Duplass Brothers as storytellers is real. And they’re moving fast in all the right directions.

Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)