SXSW: John C. Reilly Dates Jonah Hill's Mom In Cyrus
John's (John C. Reilly) life has stalled. He still hasn't recovered from his divorce from Jamie (Catherine Keener), despite her already having found a new guy. She talks him into reluctantly coming to a party with her and the new beau, hoping maybe he'll start meeting people and move on with his life. After a few disastrous attempts at chatting up random partygoers, John drunkenly launches into a rousing chorus of Human League's "Don't You Want Me," and magic happens. Once the female singer joins in, so does Molly (Marisa Tomei), and they soon prove that their harmonizing extends further than just impromptu karaoke. They begin dating, and everything is great...but she seems to be hiding something. That something turns out to be a 21-year-old, home-schooled son named Cyrus (Jonah Hill), and his relationship with Molly proves to be the sort that won't easily tolerate any interlopers. Soon a war of wills begins between John and Cyrus, and to the victor go the spoils...Molly.
Cyrus is perfectly cast. Reilly makes John just pathetic enough to need a kick in the ass to get on with his life, but not pathetic enough that he's an easy joke or unlikeable. His awkward attempts to meet girls at the party are incredibly endearing, with his failure arising not so much because he's socially inept but because he's just out of practice. You can tell that he had genuinely thought Jamie would be the woman he'd spend the rest of his life with, and the prospect of suddenly having to start all over again is just exhausting to him. He sells every aspect of the character's journey, from the initial attempts to win Cyrus over, to the realization that Cyrus is trying to sabotage the relationship, to his eventual determination to best Cyrus at his own game of mind-fucking. Even when he's threatening to punch out a kid half his age, Reilly still manages to be sympathetic, to such a degree that it's easy to understand why writer-directors Mark and Jay Duplass thought Reilly was the only actor who could play the role.
Jonah Hill does an impressive job holding his own against Reilly. Cyrus is the most crucial role in the script, and the hardest to pull off. Initially, he's got to seem a little weird, but not off-puttingly so. If he tips his hand too soon, the broader comedy of the second half of the movie won't work nearly as well. Hill plays Cyrus' bizarre relationship with Molly well, giving off a constant strange vibe without ever spilling over into creepy (well, not too often, anyway). Every aspect of the character, from his way of speaking to his wardrobe makes him come off like a middle-aged dad, which is only buttressed by the fact that Cyrus interacts with Molly more like a husband than a son. Hill shines mid-way through the film in a scene where John and Cyrus put all their cards on the table and confront each other, only to be interrupted by Molly and having to play nice. Both the dialogue and their performances operate on multiple different levels during this sharp scene, and Hill's delivery of the line, "In some ways, it's almost a weird sort of victory" is one for the ages.
Marisa Tomei continues her late-career renaissance, doing a solid job in the somewhat thankless role of Molly. Not that she isn't a well-written character or that Tomei's performance is lacking, but she's simply outshone by Reilly and Hill. While the conflict between those two is the spine of the story, she does have her share of important moments -- the moment when she comes home and realizes that John has met Cyrus, the scene where John first tells her about Cyrus' mind games. She shows believable chemistry with Reilly, and she makes her unhealthy relationship with Cyrus seem sympathetic, if no less unhealthy.
All of the performances of course rest on the script by the Duplass brothers. They've done a great job turning the usual love triangle tropes on their head by replacing the jealous ex-boyfriend with the over-attached son, and the script's humor walks the line between broad comedy and genuine emotion well. The film falters a bit toward the end, when Cyrus' behavior becomes so over the top, but it rallies by having John react believably, and then plays out a nice little reversal of the typical third-act structure for a romantic comedy.
Cyrus is a funny, uncomfortable outing buoyed by great performances by all involved. The Duplass brothers' next film, Jeff Who Lives at Home, will star Jason Segel and Ed Helms and is poised to be the moment they break into the mainstream. If Cyrus gets much attention, that breakthrough might just come even sooner.
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