Anyone who's ever had step-parents has experienced thatawful feeling of powerlessness as a strange person invades your alreadytroubled home and dares to take over the role of one of your establishedparents. I've had a step-mother andstep-father for most of my life, so I had a blast watching the characters in Cyruspass through the gauntlet of the all toorecognizable pitfalls of the post-divorce dating scene.
It all actually relieson a pretty thin comedic premise - not so far off from the phoned inperformance John C. Reilly recently gave in the pitiful comedy StepBrothers, with Will Ferrell - but the movietakes itself seriously enough so that it's well above the low brow trash of StepBrothers, but not so much that it becomesoverly dramatic, which you might say of the 1998 Julia Roberts/Susan Sarandonfilm Stepmom.
John C. Reilly plays the cleverly named John, who has beensinking into a terrible depression after his divorce from his wife Jamie(Catherine Keener) several years earlier. Jamie is about to remarry and isconcerned about John's loneliness, so she invites him to a party, hoping he'llbe able to meet someone special.
Directors Jay and Mark Duplass certainly don'twaste the opportunity to have John display his social retardation in front ofthe whole gathering, but amidst the fray he manages to grab the attention ofMolly (Marisa Tomei). They begin a tentative relationship that results insteamy make-out sessions before anything about previous marriages (or live-in children)comes up, providing for the scene where Cyrus (Jonah Hill, also currently starring in the hilarious Get Him to the Greek) flicks on a lightduring one of their make-out sessions, revealing that he's been sitting thereall along.
What follows is an increasingly tense relationship betweenthe three of them as Cyrus shows unexpected ingenuity in passively using hisemotions and seemingly casual conversation to engage in an all-out emotionalwar with John. They're usually reduced to aggressive whispering and dirty looksas the limits of their engagement, in order to prevent Molly from seeing what'sgoing on, since all the really wants is for everyone to get along.
The movie daringly approaches the possibility of presentingan incestuous relationship between Cyrus and his mother, but it never goesbeyond, for example, a photo suggesting that his breast-feeding went on for farlonger than necessary, which may account for some of Cyrus' childlike behaviorand Norman Bates-like attachment to his mommy. We all remember what happenedwhen Norman Bates' mother got angry, but in this case the mother is completelyoblivious, while Cyrus and John battle things out through scowling andunpunishable crimes, like "misplaced" shoes that disappear and reappearinexplicably, showing John that he's either losing his mind or being attackedby the overly polite/possibly vindictive Cyrus.
My favorite thing about the movie is how well Jonah Hill andJohn C. Reilly work together onscreen. They play off of each other so well thatyou will find yourself marveling at how skillfully the movie was cast, witheveryone flawlessly fitting into their characters as though playing themselves.I will say that I was a little disappointed in the unfittingly melodramaticturn that the movie takes in the last act, but overall this is one of thebetter and more human films that I've seen this year. Marisa Tomei effortlesslysells her role as a middle-aged mother struggling to overcome her inability tofind real love, which might have something to do with the fact that she issurrounded by people who are similarly handicapped. And Jonah Hill displays arange of performing ability unknown in any of his previous roles.
Directors Jay and Mark Duplass made a name for themselvesmostly with two recent films, The Puffy Chair (2005) and Baghead (2008),in what's called "mumblecore," which basically refers to a style of filmmakingthat emphasizes realism and ultra-low budgets. The two films made them hugelypopular and earned them larger-budget offers, and Cyrus is the result. I don't count myself among them, but I'veheard that his original fan base is set to be alienated by Cyrus, but I really think it stands alone as a well madedramatic comedy, and bears the clear fingerprint of its makers. It has astructure that boils down to the standard romantic comedy, but is peppered withcharacters and situations that make it unique, and asking for too much morethan that from today's movies is most like just setting yourself up fordisappointment.
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