Mark Reviews Movies

CYRUS

3 Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass

Cast: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh

MPAA Rating: R (for language and some sexual material)

Running Time: 1:32

Release Date: 6/18/10 (limited); 6/25/10 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 24, 2010

Cyrus introduces a mentally unbalanced character. He's clingy, needy, full of ego covered by a self-deprecating attitude about himself, and a stalker. It's an adept (and necessary) little turnaround that sibling writing/directing team Jay and Mark Duplass do right at the moment we start to become uncomfortable with his personality.

After covertly following the woman he's been seeing for a few days to her home—after her repeated assertions of needing some parts of private life to stay private for the time being—and wandering around her house trying to look through the windows, John (John C. Reilly) meets her son. Cyrus (Jonah Hill) is his name, and he has been watching the man he's about to learn is his mom's new boyfriend acting in this very creepy fashion.

It's an awkward moment, and at this point, we're on Cyrus' side. Why is John exceeding boundaries so? Will the son catch on to John's inappropriate behavior? He seems a nice enough kid. Sure, he's 21 and still living with his mother without any solid career or education ambitions except to work on his club music, but that's not uncommon. Yeah, he seems a little too interested in John's personal life, but he talks like a regular, old son, concerned about the emotional security of his single mother. In the hands of this strange man, it is a legitimate cause for worry.

Then something happens. Cyrus asks John if he'd like to hear some of his music. John accepts, because, after all, he wants to make a good impression on the son of the woman to whom he's already laid bare his soul. Cyrus starts playing, dismisses John's comparison to another musician, and begins to add layers to the composition. The entire time, Cyrus' eyes never leave John.

This stare, a completely vacant look that gives away nothing but signifies everything, transfers the uneasiness away from John and directly toward Cyrus. It is in this instant that the film hits its stride, sidestepping the typical middle-aged loner angst of its first act and setting off down the path of examining this far more deranged character, a textbook case of a mama's boy taken to the point of excess. The movie might have reached higher comic potential if the Duplass brothers had kept John at a similar level of craziness.

Consider how John interacts with others, especially his new love interest Molly, played with sweetness by Marisa Tomei, in the opening parts of the movie. First, his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) walks in on him masturbating. She invites him to a friend's party, where he drunkenly hits on any woman without a noticeable significant other at her side. Molly overhears one of these overly honest conversations and admires his openness. They spend the night together, and he calls her the next day, the day after, the day after at, etc. He's worried things will go wrong and tells her such. He questions why she leaves in the middle of the night and presses the issue after she tells him to trust her.

Molly needs to be angelically understanding for their relationship (and the premise) to work. They speak in hushed tones in the beginning, their dialogue overlapping images of them looking at each other without speaking in a dreamy editing trick that feels out of place (The whole movie is shot handheld with random zooms, and that doesn't suit the material too well either).  Molly is accepting, but at least Keener and her character's new fiancé (Matt Walsh) are present to get fed up with his constant over-analysis.

Instead of developing John's issues, he becomes the relative straight man to Cyrus' manipulations (with a couple of exceptions, most memorable his threatening query of "Do you know what it feels like to be unconscious?"), and the results are consistently amusing.

The Duplasses start to unravel Cyrus' unhinged psyche subtly at first. John loses a shoe after spending his first night at Molly's house. While she usually keeps the door open at night, in case her son needs help, one night, she closes it, and Cyrus just happens to have an episode of night terror that leaves John alone in bed for the rest of a considerably sleepless night. John encounters the kid holding a butcher knife, waiting for him, but he's just having a late-night snack.

On it goes until everyone but John and the audience think Cyrus is a normal kid (although his ex is a little weirded out when Molly and her son play wrestle during a picnic), and the two try to one-up each other on distracting Molly's attention away from the other.

The comedy works, in large part, because it is void of a mean-spirited tone, and Cyrus never passes judgment on either John or Cyrus. They both love this tender, kind woman. There's nothing wrong with that—only something strange in the way they do.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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