The combination of John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill and a poorly cut trailer might lead you to believe that ‘Cyrus’ is going to be a hilarious comedy romp with some dark undertones infused by its indie directors Mark and Jay Duplass. But if you go in expecting ‘Step Brothers’ but with Will Ferrell substituted for Jonah Hill, you’ll be very disappointed.
The story centres on John (Reilly) a freelance editor who is in a rut. He lives alone, works alone and, he fears, could well die alone. When his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) drops by to tell him she is about to re-marry, John can’t take it and spirals into a depression… that is, until he meet Molly (Marisa Tomei).
Molly is beautiful, funny, and totally in tune with John’s endearing honesty and playful fun side. The trouble is, she has a 21-year old son named Cyrus (Hill) with whom she has built an unshakable bond that threatens to cocoon them both in a familial bubble, away from any other emotional connection.
From the get-go it’s clear that the Duplass brothers are staying as true to their ‘mumblecore’ ideals as this shift up the budgetary ladder allows them to be. They have shed the amateur actors for some household names, and had a bit of a budget to spend, but the focus is very much on the relationships between the central characters, and there is obviously a lot of heartfelt improv in there.
The naturalistic approach of the directors led to revelatory performances from Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly. Tomei was already on a high from ‘The Wrestler’ so we knew she could push some powerful emotional buttons, but Reilly reaches another level as the loveable oaf who won’t give up on what may very well be his last chance at true happiness. At the other end of the spectrum, Hill brings in some cold, dark places as he goes loco with quasi-incestuous jealousy at the invading male. It’s all kinds of crazy, and that is completely to Hill’s credit, but the real genius comes in the human touches that he builds in, (and which emerge in greater detail as the story rounds itself off), allowing us to associate with a guy who, on the face of it, is pretty distant and unstable.
These strong performances help produce a powerful drama that has some fantastically human moments in it. And the comic capabilities of the leading men that we’re all so aware of mean that the opportunities for moments of twisted dark humour are never fully missed.
But be warned, the moments of comedy are always wrapped in a shroud of realism. There are no gags, no clear scenes that are simple comedy set-pieces, but just as in real life there are some strange moments that surface to show you just how silly life can be, before subsiding amidst the usual melee of existence.
Producing a film on this scale that incorporates such a nuanced range of emotions from within the drama and comedy spectrum is a huge achievement for the directors as they make this first step onto a bigger stage. But fans of the acting talent and of the trailers should be warned that this is not a traditional comedy, and whether it is a comedy at all is sometimes debatable. If you’re not dead set on zany gags and slapstick setups though, you’ll find an amazing human drama played pout by actors at the peak of their profession: and who could want more than that?
Cyrus is in U.K. cinema’s from today.
This article was first posted on September 10, 2010