Movie Review: Cyrus

And now everyone, time to breath that collective sigh of fresh air. “Cyrus” has arrived. It’s a comedy that’s not too ridiculous, and a drama that’s not too, well, overly dramatic; it’s just right. But then again, it’s also ever so wrong.

“Cyrus” is a little less of the screwball comedy you might’ve been hoping for. It’s humor is dark and very, very awkward. Cyrus, the man of the movie, isn’t even the main character. Rather, it’s John (John C. Reilly). John has been divorced from his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), for seven years. While Jamie has happily recovered, John remains alone and devastated. After Jamie convinces him to go out one night, he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei).
At first, Molly seems perfect. She’s made John the happiest he’s been in years. But something must be wrong. Yep, there’s a problem. Molly has a grown son, the titular Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Cyrus was home schooled and he maintains a too-close-for-comfort relationship with his mother. He’s prone to panic attacks, and behind his sweet cover, he’s quite the sociopath.
Cyrus is no fan of John. He wants his mother back, and he’ll do anything to do so. John needs Molly, but he’ll have to get by Cyrus first.
“Cyrus” is not quite the movie I was expecting. I don’t mean this in a bad way. I mean that it’s more genuine, and more emotionally moving than I ever thought it would be. It handles a lot of characters that walked a thin line between character and caricature. Yet, each one fell into the former category. Despite the title, each character is handled with similar care, and each get their own sort of moment to stand out.
It might be emotional with all of the various character revelations. But don’t get me wrong, “Cyrus” is better comedy than almost anything that’s come out in some time. The laughs sometimes come from the dialogue, which often seems improvised. But it really derives from every character, and to truly get the humor of the film, you must become invested in the characters.
The story of “Cyrus” is bettered further by excellent acting. After a string of great comedic performances, Reilly returns to more dramatic form, while bringing in much comedic voice. He brings to his role some extra awkwardness, as well as this often child-like sense of vulnerability. Yes, you could totally see how this is the same actor from “Step Brothers.” Just think of it as another great comedic actors bending their comic acts into dramatic territory. Think of Adam Sandler in “Punch Drunk Love,” or Ben Stiller in “Greenberg.”
Someone who manages to be even better is Hill. Yes, he’s that good. Like Reilly, he packs in so much awkwardness. But his performance is also so dark, and so haunted. The point of his character is that his true motives are so hidden. He manages to be so sheltered, yet at times so open and honest. At times, he’s creepy beyond belief. Other times, you feel like you just want to sit down with him and sympathize. And the other great performance comes from Tomei. Between this, “My Cousin Vinny,” and “The Wrestler,” she proves she can play any character.
“Cyrus” embodies the newer genre known as Mumblecore. It’s basically exactly what the word suggests: quiet, and delightfully aimless. For a dialogue driven film, it certainly contains a handful of quiet moments that suggest much more beyond the surface. So please, pay very close attention to those facial expressions. You might see a smile, but look closer, and maybe you’ll see much suppressed anger.

The Duplass Brothers have mastered a style of both extreme awkwardness and a dominant feeling of being uncomfortably real. You can see that by their very odd yet innovative camera style. The camera never quite stays still. Even when focusing on one character, it still jiggles around and constantly goes in and out of focus.

It is also worth noting how the film’s title character isn’t even given a first person perspective. However, he may very well be the main character. Perhaps the film is about how all of these different people see “Cyrus.” Or maybe it’s about how Cyrus’s horrible actions cause people’s lives to fall apart. One thing is certain though: his character is too mysterious, and his inner workings too creepy, to be given a first person voice. It’s more entertaining to try and understand his thoughts and motives as the rest of the characters do.

As you watch more and more movies, even when watching a good one, you still get a sense that you can take past films as precedent and know exactly where the movie you’re watching is headed. “Cyrus” is resistant to that. It’s not trying to impress, and it’s not even trying to get you to like the characters. That comes out of your own opinion. It doesn’t even end on a note of certainty. There is a feeling of certainty that we know what will happen to the characters next, but we don’t need to see it. It will just…happen.

“Cyrus” is as real and funny as the people you know, or the people you never wanted to know. It proves that a raunchy joke, or a grown man standing in nothing but a t-shirt and holding a giant knife, can be funny and sophisticated. Oh, and I’ll emphasize once again that it’s weird. However, it’s the kind of weirdness that feels so unique. More directors should be like the Duplass Brothers: not afraid of throwing away Hollywood convention in order to tell a perfectly good story.