Freud would have had a ball with Molly (Marisa Tomei) and Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Molly is what the Viennese Sexologist would have called an engulfing mother, a single mom with an extra strong connection to her son. Cyrus is, well, he’s Cyrus—an overweight twenty-one-year-old with an Oedipus complex and an attitude. Enter John, played by John C. Reilly, a single sad sack who falls for Molly and feels the wrath of Cyrus. As Freud said, “How bold one gets when one is sure of being loved.”
When we first meet John he’s been single for seven years and still pines for his ex wife (Catherine Keener) even though she is about to be remarried. At her insistence he goes to a party and following some of the most awkward attempts at picking up women ever put on screen he meets Molly, a pretty partygoer who is attracted to his awkwardness and honesty she begins a relationship with him. After a one night stand and the words nobody wants to hear—“My life is really complicated right now”—John follows her home and meets Cyrus, her man-child son. Cyrus pretends to be happy that John is around. “You deserve someone to love you in the way that I can’t love you,” he tells his mother, but secretly he is plotting to drive a wedge between the two.
“Cyrus” is a dark character study disguised as a comedy. Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, a Coen-lite brother team best known for making no budget indies like “The Puffy Chair” that make the Dogme 95 films look like slick Michael Bay movies, it has a few chuckles sprinkled throughout, but don’t expect a John C. Reilly laughfest like “Stepbrothers.” “Cyrus” is about broken people, unhealthy relationships and how people act when they feel threatened. Like real life sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad, other times it’s awkward, but the brothers and actors ensure that whatever the tone of any given scene, and no matter how outrageous the situation, that it rings true.
Tomei is the glue that holds the film together. As Molly, mother of Cyrus, girlfriend to John, she’s caught between two men she loves and must provide balance as their emotional war escalates. She’s warm and believable, but also vulnerable and unpredictable. It’s another great performance from an actor who should be a bigger star than she is.
Reilly finds a balance between the character work he does for Paul Thomas Anderson in movies like “Magnolia” and the slapstick he’s been doing lately with Will Ferrell in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.” It’s his most layered performance in some time and it is refreshing to see an average-guy leading man on the big screen.
Like Reilly, Jonah Hill adds dimension to Cyrus, taking a character who could have been played for laughs and adding some intensity and depth. Freud might have been speaking about him when he said, “One is very crazy when in love.”
“Cyrus” is an odd film. Not quite a comedy, not quite a drama it falls somewhere in between. Just like real life.
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