Cyrus: A Review
Cyrus – Dir: Jay & Mark Duplass; *ing: John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill
It’s just a fact of life: characters in their forties don’t get a lot of meet-cute romantic comedies. They either get dreary dramas with a lot of hand wringing over who left the stove on which burned down their apartment – a symbol of their burned out but simmering relationship! – or they get to be the butt of age-phobic slapstick fests with ‘jokes’ about menopause and erectile dysfunction; in Hollywood being in your forties makes you a septuagenarian, apparently. So props to the Duplass’s for finding a middle path with Cyrus, which, though marketed as a Farrelly-style over-the-top comedy, is really a sly post-baby boomer drama with darkly comic overtones about the vagaries of modern-day romance among the not-quite-young-but-not-really-middle-aged.
John (Reilly) and Molly (Tomei) certainly meet saucy if not cute. He’s drunk and enjoying a urinary moment in the bushes at a party he didn’t want to go to, when she, all tousled hair and sexy overbite, walks by and admires his watering implement. They’re both ‘older’ and single; she’s funny, warm, a little ditzy; he’s lonely, depressed and in a romantic time warp since his wife left him seven years ago. They embark on a tryst but Molly harbours, not a secret, but baggage, and a considerable amount, in the rotund shape of her twenty-one-year old son Cyrus (Hill). “Seriously, don’t fuck my Mom,” he jokingly warns John at the dinner table, and we think ‘Aha! Here’s the setup for some knockabout hijinks where this overgrown baby will smear feces on the boyfriend’s car and spit in his bowl of pasta’. But what we have here is no Home Alone homage with pitfalls in place of narrative. Cyrus – the movie and the character – is more complex and insidious than that, for what is at stake for him is not merely the division of Mom’s affection but his role as man-child of the house, his sense of validation. And so, as written by the Duplass’s and essayed by Hill, Cyrus is no hissy-fitting clown; he’s restrained and menacing enough to be creepy and very real. He has a great counterpoint in Reilly who, with his anti-Clooney rumpled-dork charm, plays not so much as a wizened father figure but, interestingly, as what is possibly Cyrus twenty-five years down the line; in a way, they’re both babies much too used to being mothered, it’s just a question of who’s willing to be the lesser one. The denouement might not be a surprising one, but the way in which it is arrived at is, and reflects a maturity of purpose and method that was the missing from the director-writer team’s previous work.
Cyrus is hard to shoehorn into one specific genre or category and that is one of its strengths; it’s not ha-ha splitting-ribs funny, nor is it so morbidly straight-faced as to be inaccessibly self-serious. Instead of overloading the film with Cyrus’ anti-John campaign tricks, the writers offer up a dual character study where said characters are not mere ciphers for Hollywood’s penchant for gross-out cinematic antics, but two compelling sketches of male types that we encounter often in mainstream cinema but are rarely allowed to see the inner workings and frailties of, much less identify with.