Jay and Mark Duplass have so far made their way in Hollywood by impressing people with their short films and well-received mumblecore features like The Puffy Chair and Baghead. Unfortunately, their latest project, Cyrus, just fails to hit the high notes of comedy and the depths of emotion that they’re clearly aiming for with their handheld indie style.
John C. Reilly stars as John, a middle-aged editor whose life took a downturn when his wife Jamie (Catherin Keener) left him seven years ago. After Jamie forces him to come to a party with her, John manages to catch the eye of Molly (Marisa Tomei), despite being drunk and emotionally needy.
But Molly’s cagey attitude the morning after leaves John wondering and, after some mild stalking, John discovers that she has a 22-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). After spending some time with the two of them, John realises that Cyrus is firmly tied to his mother’s apron strings and isn’t willing to let John just waltz into their lives and steal her affection away from him, so Cyrus begins to quietly attempt to manipulate Molly and push John out of the picture with his own brand of psychological warfare.
Jonah Hill’s cold-eyed performance is pitch-perfect and his whispered threats to John are the highlight of the film but though his bizarre attachment to Marisa Tomei is amusing, it’s never hilarious. John C. Reilly’s a pleasure to watch – he rarely plays the straight man but here he knocks it out of the park and provides the film with an emotional core and a great foil for Hill. Although their scenes are some of the best in the movie, you’re left waiting far too long for any kind of real confrontation and when it comes it’s way too short.
Like any mother would, Oscar-winner Marisa Tomei’s Molly seems to only see the best in her son, but it’s wildly unbelievable that no one else has ever pointed out to her Cyrus’s strange behaviour or his oedipal attachment to her. The Duplass brothers skim over this detail by claiming that Molly hasn’t had a man in her life since Cyrus was born, which in the end, proves to be pretty flimsy screenwriting. Their failure to explore the complex relationships further leaves a lot of frustrating questions simply hanging in the air and ultimately the film leaves you feeling slightly unsatisfied.
The handheld camera moves and the jarring focus-pulling are often annoying but suit the style that the Duplass brothers are famous for. However, their need to drag out short, funny sequences leave the movie feeling like it’s a short film that’s been stretched into a feature. It robs the movie of most of its humour and, like Cyrus himself, leaves the movie strange, unbalanced and awkward.