Jay and Mark Duplass are no strangers to the affections of serious film geeks, having produced two relatively well known indie flicks, the SXSW acclaimed The Puffy Chair (2005) and the rather less well known Baghead (2008), both of which were made for peanuts. It was only when producer Michael Costigan (Brokeback Mountain and Smart People) got involved with the two filmmakers that any real studio budget, courtesy of Ridley and Tony Scott, was made available to them.
The end result of this cash injection was Cyrus, a sort of black/romantic comedy that focuses on the bizarre relationship between a single mother played by Marisa Tomei, her home-schooled 20-something man-child son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), and her first love interest in two decades, John (John C. Reilly).
The film starts by introducing us to John C. Reilly’s character, John, and his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) who’ve been divorced for seven years. In the opening scene, we see Jamie go round to John’s house where she finds him masturbating – in a jockstrap! – on his bed. Embarrassment for both parties ensues and Jamie informs her lump of an ex that she is getting re-married and, for some utterly unfathomable reason, she’d like him to attend.
In terms of genre, the film Cyrus falls into the category of what is now commonly known as mumblecore. And while there isn’t really any official definition of mumblecore, it is probably best described as having an emphasis on low production values, handheld camera work, improvised dialogue and covering subjects that aren’t usually the norm for what the layman would perceive as subject matter for feature films.
And while there are a lot of notable films that fall into this category, such as Slacker and LOL, it’s hard to consider Cyrus among them. For starters, Cyrus wasn’t made on shoestring budget and features some serious Hollywood actors. That said, Cyrus does feel very mumblecore on the whole, but this is more down to the film’s camera work and sloppy dialogue than anything else.
The film gets well and truly underway when John attends a 30-something ‘media-types’ party with Jamie and her new finance. Jamie and John are still very close, but their relationship has gone from a sexual union to that of a paternal one, where Jamie is hell bent on hooking John up with someone, presumably so he’ll leave her alone and allow her to get on with her new life.
Nonetheless, Jamie’s plan works and John meets Molly at the party, who catches him taking a leak in the garden. She tells him he has a “nice penis” and the two hook up.
John is slightly taken aback by Molly’s interest in him, which is thoroughly plausible, as he is definitely punching above his weight with Marisa Tomei.
Nevertheless, their relationship commences and John is elevated from the lowly level of masturbating gooseberry to that of a normal single male in his late thirties. Symbolic house tidying ensues as John well and truly gets his groove back.
It is only when John meets Molly’s son, Cyrus, that we get to the meat of the film, which is essentially one big ‘don’t fuck my mom’ joke. And if you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen pretty much all the good jokes the film has to offer.
Cyrus is a home schooled man-child. He calls his mum “Molly” and tells John that they’re more like housemates than mother and son. Obviously, this isn’t the case, and there’s some serious Freudian undertones as Cyrus does all that he can to destroy the blossoming relationship between his beloved mother and John.
Cyrus isn’t a bad film. There’s some good acting in it with the entire cast putting in commendable performances. Both Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly are utterly believable and make an adorable, albeit unlikely, couple. Jonah Hill also puts in a memorable performance as the dark-natured, manipulative, man-child who is determined to prevent anyone from stealing his mother’s affections.
Nevertheless, it is an ultimately underwhelming 90 minutes. Put simply, there just isn’t enough, humour or otherwise, going on in the film to keep you entertained or excited. Plus, it’s a film that seems torn between being a drama and a light comedy, and it never really commits to either.
To be fair, initial reviews of Cyrus have been rather complimentary, with Rolling Stone proclaiming it the “sharpest comedy at Cannes”, so maybe people will like this film better than we did.
On the whole, though, we weren’t overly impressed with Cyrus. It’s a decent movie, that seems to have more potential than the end result would lead you to believe. It’s decent, but we couldn’t help but hope for more than we got.