Cyrus is a movie destined to catch audiences off-guard. The presence of comedic performers like John C. Reilly and especially Jonah Hill may lead many viewers to expect a comedy—and laugh (as at least one preview audience did) at moments that aren’t intended to be funny. But filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass have a surprise up their sleeve: they use these likable actors (along with Catherine Keener and Marisa Tomei) to win us over. Cyrus is actually a serious film with comic undertones…and it’s quite good.
Reilly is an ideal Everyman character—here, a guy who’s still reeling from his divorce seven years ago and hasn’t gotten his act together. His very patient ex-wife (the wonderful Keener) encourages him to attend—
—a party where, to his amazement, he actually meets an attractive woman (Tomei) who likes him on sight. He can’t believe his good fortune.
The hitch is that she lives with her grown son Cyrus (Hill). He and his mom are exceptionally close, and although Tomei can’t see it, Cyrus is not about to let an outsider disrupt their relationship.
At this point, a conventional Hollywood movie would have turned the rivalry between the son and the new lover into a broad comedy showdown. Cyrus goes in a different direction, and that’s what makes this such a striking and worthwhile film. Its characters wear their emotions on their sleeves, and the Duplass’ hand-held, closeup camerawork puts us literally in their faces. There is no ducking their raw feelings or the discomfort of their confrontations, and that’s just what the filmmakers had in mind.
Cyrus won’t be everybody’s cup of tea—especially people who want formulaic storytelling that gives them just what they expect. But if you don’t mind being disarmed, especially by talented actors who can make you believe in the characters they’re playing, it’s a highspot of the summer movie season.