Cyrus

Directors: Mark and Jay Duplass
Starring: John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Rating: ***

The Duplass Brothers offer up a charming film that might easily have turned out a full-on gag-fest. Whilst it will consistently tickle you, the humour isn’t belly-ache funny… but this is a good thing. The actors are given just a little improvisational space around their lines, as per the ‘mumblecore’ values of their directors, lending the film a welcome sense of authenticity and allowing the nuances of polite social behaviour to dictate the course of events. At no point, gratefully, are we pushed into any set-ups that we couldn’t believe would ever happen.

When Molly (Marisa Tomei) meets John (John C. Reilly) there’s instant chemistry. Yet after following her home one evening, he discovers that she has a 21 year-old son with whom he must vie for her affections, and finds out just as quickly that Cyrus will say and do anything to keep his mother all to himself.

There’s something unashamedly middle-aged about Cyrus, with Tomei looking decidedly older than she has in other recent films (though still sexy), and Reilly almost always in buttoned up shirts. Both Molly and John are sweet people desperate for love and companionship when we first encounter them. When they first meet, Molly catches John urinating in the bushes outside of a house party, and simply retorts ‘Nice penis’. Tellingly, this is one of the less awkward moments of the film’s comedy.

Cyrus (Jonah Hill, recognizable from most Judd Apatow productions) is a strange cross between Norman Bates from Psycho and Lindsay Lohan’s characters in The Parent Trap – but funny, most of the time. The stolen looks that he uses to stare down Reilly are a little overdone, and only occasionally amusing (look out for one in a rear-view mirror; it induced this reviewer’s only belly-laugh of the entire film). Catherine Keener rounds off a fairly strong cast who, in the absence of an A-list, box-office draw, all turn in solid performances.

With the level of inappropriate behaviour between Molly and her son sitting comfortably below the level that would turn this film into something weird, dark or Oedipal, we can just about appreciate Molly’s naivety concerning her special relationship with Cyrus, whilst still siding with John in the name of human decency. What’s great about Cyrus is that it lets itself slowly unfold; the inevitable fall-out is coming and the polite avoidance of tension John attempts just won’t fly. Cyrus wants to cause embarrassment, as typified by his attempt at dinner-table conversation meeting John for the first time: ‘Seriously, don’t fuck my Mom’.

Cyrus does very little wrong. The camera does, however, find itself slipping out of focus one too many times for it not to be annoying, and the near constant close-ups often appear to be pushing a sentiment that just isn’t there. Yet, from a very drunken display of affection for The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby?’ to some very dubiously artistic photos taken of John C. Reilly up a tree, this film can deliver both sweet and cringe in equal measure just as well as any other.

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