Grown son meddles in Mom's romance in engaging 'Cyrus'
It's a familiar enough premise in the movies: boy meets girl, boy and girl click, then boy has to cope with girl's parents/children/ family (pick one). But filmmaking brothers Jay and Mark Duplass throw in a few fresh insights in their thoughtful comedy, Cyrus. The intrepid couple trying out a new romance are a seasoned man and woman in their 40s, and the "child" who threatens to come between them is a 22-year-old slacker determined to remain the single focus of his mom's attention.
If this were a movie with Will Ferrell, say, or Ben Stiller, crazy comedy would ensue. The males would draw their lines in the sand and engage in ever more frenetic games of one-upsmanship, while soft-soaping the woman both want. The Duplasses flirt with this idea for a while, it surfaces now and then in the plot. But by keeping their characters and the narrative absolutely life-sized and credible, the filmmakers humanize the story in a way Hollywood comedies never even try to do. The result is a heartfelt, engaging comedy that draws us in like a thriller; the characters are so believable, we can't wait to find out how (or if) they’ll resolve their problem.
In the seven years since his wife divorced him, John (John C. Reilly), a "freelance editor," has become something of a lonely sad sack. He doesn't get out much and hasn't met anyone new, so it's a shock when his ex, Jamie (Catherine Keener)—who is still his best friend—tells him she's marrying someone else. Jamie and her fiancé drag John to a party and order him to go meet some women, but, just like real life, the harder he tries to chit-chat, and the drunker he gets, the more he embarrasses himself. Until, against all odds, in a supremely unguarded moment, he strikes up an honest conversation with Molly (Marisa Tomei).
Molly "gets" the dazzled John, and his life suddenly jumps back on track. But after the first two nights they spend together end with Molly sneaking out in the wee smalls ("Are you married?" John asks. "Are you a secret agent?"), he decides to investigate. And thus, he discovers Cyrus (Jonah Hill), the unemployed, 22-year-old son who still lives at home, noodles around with some sort of aimless, techno-pop compositions on an electronic keyboard (he calls it "focusing on my music career"), and says that Molly (he never calls her "Mom") is his "best friend."
Although the doting Molly has been afraid to tell her son about the new man in her life, Cyrus seems fine with the arrangement—at first. He encourages John to sleep over and assures them both that he can be adult about their relationship. But as John becomes more of a fixture in their lives, he worries about their co-dependence (open bedroom doors; panic attacks in the middle of the night), and suspects that Cyrus is trying to undermine the arrangement in subtle, crafty ways. Even when Cyrus moves out, John fears it's a ploy to make Molly miserable, and make John "the bad guy."
That John copes with these challenges in sensitive, effective ways makes the story interesting. The movie is probably least convincing in its more conventional moments when John and Cyrus strip off the gloves and lay down the ground rules in their "war" for Molly's affections (although I can see how these scenes might be necessary to keep viewers up to speed). Yes, a showdown between John and Cyrus is inevitable, but the movie regains its credibility in how the characters behave in the aftermath, all three of them (even Cyrus) struggling to face up to themselves and the situation they've created.
Reilly, adept at all genres, is perfectly believable as a very ordinary guy grasping at what may be his last chance for love. The vibrant Tomei makes Molly's interest in him plausible as well. Hill (currently onscreen as the only voice of attempted rational sanity in Get Him To The Greek) is excellent as the pivotal Cyrus, odious and manipulative one minute, and genuinely vulnerable the next. Indie darlings on the DIY circuit, the Duplass brothers step up to the mainstream with this smartly observed, achingly real film.
CYRUS ★★★ With John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei, and Catherine Keener. Written and directed by Jay Duplass & Mark Duplass. A Fox Searchlight release. Rated R. 92 minutes. Watch film trailer >>>
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