Despite a rough day at work and a line that stretched into the theater parking lot, I felt practically giddy as I waited to see Monday night's screening of Cyrus. At last a break from the formulaic Hollywood drivel I normally review! For some time the indie scene has been abuzz with talk of the "mumblecore" movement and the Duplass Brothers in particular. Though I probably shouldn't admit this, I'd never actually seen any of their other work. Unfortunately I'd missed Baghead at the Calgary International Film Festival a couple years back and hadn't gotten around to renting either it or 2005's, The Puffy Chair. Earlier this year I saw a preview of Cyrus, the brother's first stab at more mainstream cinema, and had been eagerly awaiting it ever since. And so, with these high expectations, perhaps it was inevitable to leave the theater a trifle disappointed. There is a lot to like about the film--a great cast, some inspired writing, genuine characters--but nevertheless, I felt surprisingly under whelmed.
Things begin well. John (John C. Reilly) plays a borderline pathetic middle-aged divorcee who still clings to his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener). In the opening scene she first catches him masturbating and then tells him that she's going to be remarried in a couple months. Talk about humiliation. When John meets a beautiful woman at a party, Molly (Marisa Tomei) who likes him (despite his propensity for embarrassing himself publicly) things seem too good to be true. And they are. Molly has a grown son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill) who still lives at home and still . . . sits on her lap. Despite their relationship's Oedipal connotations, it is explicit that they are not incestuous--just really, really close. For the remainder of the film John and Cyrus have a quiet but vicious war for Molly's affections.
Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is that it manages to make this semi-disturbing material relatable and even heartwarming. As annoying, creepy and ruthless as Cyrus can be, he is never utterly unlikable (well, maybe sometimes). John C. Reilly, in primo sad bastard mode, is the real standout. I wish the exposition had been elongated to include even more moments of John acting depressed and desperate. The schadenfreude is sublime.
Perhaps my biggest quibble with the film is Marisa Tomei's Molly. Whether she's stepping out of the shower, waking up in the morning, or going out on a night on the town, her makeup is always perfect and her hair so glossy it appears to be coated in varnish. In every other way the film pointedly adheres to a hyper-realistic aesthetic, so this detail stands our and proves distracting. Also, I didn't buy her character. A nice, beautiful woman who is normal in pretty much every way has managed to stay single for twenty-plus years and indulges in an obsessive relationship with her son. It simply doesn't add up.
Cyrus is entertaining and funny and different--I don't want to sell it short. But it's not great, or at least not as great as I wanted it to be. What I do know is that the Duplass Brothers have more to come and I will look forward to seeing what they do next.