The plot of the Duplass’ brothers new film, Cyrus, is not exactly original. The idea of having a son go to war with his mother’s new boyfriend has been seen many times and is, frankly, a tired dynamic. Yet they pull it off anyway. Thanks to wonderful aesthetics, great characters and an ability to capitalize on its own awkwardness, Cyrus makes an old cinematic conflict seem fresh.
John (John C. Reilly) is a self proclaimed lonely guy. Divorced for the last seven years, he has yet to meet anyone else and, instead of trying, stays hold up in his apartment. One night, his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) comes by to deliver some news: she’s getting remarried. Shocked and upset, John allows her to drag him to a party to meet some new people. Despite drinking far too many vodka and Red Bulls, he manages to charm the far-out-of-his-league Molly (Marisa Tomei) and ends up sleeping with her. What he doesn’t know, however, is that Molly has a 21-year-old son named Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who is still living at home. Though John and Cyrus maintain a friendly relationship while in front of Molly, they can’t stand each other, the son declaring that separating the couple has become his personal mission.
Since making their feature debut back in 2005, Mark and Jay Duplass have been labeled the forerunners of the mumblecore movement, a genre defined by low-budgets and dialogue-heavy scripts. Where this movie separates itself is in the use of mainstream actors, but, because of casting choices and how the characters are presented, it preserves its independent feel. Reilly and Hill are not exactly George Clooney and Brad Pitt and Tomei is, purposefully, not at her most dolled up. If this were the first film a person ever saw after hearing stories about Hollywood glitz and glamour, they wouldn’t comprehend that this is a cast with two Oscar nominated actors and one of the biggest comedy stars around. They aren’t beautiful; they just feel like normal people and it’s a quality that does the movie more than a few favors.
Appearances aside, Cyrus is a film about its characters and not only are they fantastic as individuals, but their interactions are what make the movie work. There is more love in John and Molly’s relationship than in any romantic comedy that has come out in the past year and the adversarial nature of John and Cyrus’ association gets by far the most laughs, but it’s the bond between the mother and her son that takes this film to a whole different level. Films like these tend to feature sons that are teenagers or younger, but by making Cyrus a mature twenty-something a whole new can of worms is opened. Also unique is that the dependency works both ways. Molly wants Cyrus in her life and by her side just as much as Cyrus wants to be there. Does it occasionally cross a few bizarre barriers? For sure, but it’s done in the name of humor as opposed to incestuous creepiness (okay, maybe a little of both).
Beyond the romance and the mumblecore, this film is a comedy, so I am required by law to tell you whether or not I found it funny. The film’s script and actors never miss an opportunity to squeeze something hilarious into a scene, be it John drunkenly performing the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” Cyrus never losing eye contact with his mother’s new beau while a sample of his self-made techno music, or John reassuring Molly that everything is not going to be all right and will end in disaster while she is crying in bed. The actors sell the simplest stares and eyebrow-raises to great effect.
It’s typically a disappointment to see unoriginal plotlines come from independent films, but Cyrus gets a pass for being so enjoyable. The film is on the shorter side, clocking in at only 92 minutes, which results in some pacing issues, but you’ll likely be too busy laughing to notice. The team of Reilly, Hill and Tomei is superb, hitting every note that their characters require. The Duplass brothers have made a film that looks and feels like it only belongs on the festival circuit, but it deserves so much more.