Cyrus is a film about letting go, losing inhibitions and following new paths, delivered with a mix of observational humour and heartbreak that stays with you.
Fans of the Duplass brothers will be pleased to learn that their first studio picture doesn’t betray their indie roots. With Sundance audience favourites like oddball road-trip comedy The Puffy Chair and quirky comic horror Baghead, the brothers established the ‘Duplassian Method’ – shooting a script chronologically and allowing the actors to develop their own dialogue. It makes for believable characters and a rewarding narrative presented in a cinema vérité style.
The prolific siblings’ latest introduces us to John (John C Reilly), a crumpled loser stuck in the grip of a midlife crisis. But when he parlays a drunken party sing-along to the Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ into a stab at relationship redemption with Molly (Marisa Tomei), he can’t believe his luck.
Then he meets her son, Cyrus. Jonah Hill proves there’s more to his career than frat house fart gags with a broodingly understated display. "Don’t fuck my mom!"he jokes. But should we laugh at or pity this sociopathic momma’s boy as he desperately tries to make three a crowd? The result is a film of bleak laughs as Cyrus goes toe-to-toe on home turf for Molly’s affections.
Cyrus’ first encounter with John echoes the undercurrent of menace from Jim Carrey’s Cable Guy. Manning the controls of his home studio, he blows his opponent away with a monstrous slab of progressive trance we later learn is called ‘Isotopes: A Study of Two and Three’. It’s small touches like this that make the film’s world so immersive.
After a period of furious script writing (including gags for Sacha Baron Cohen’s Brüno) and having established himself in the Apatow ensemble, Jonah Hill has now definitively moved on from his breakout role in Superbad. The actor also has aspirations to direct, and for a lover of improv who better to learn from than the masters of Mumblecore? The Duplass brothers provide the perfect arena for Hill and Reilly’s verbal sparring, and they’re ably supported by both Tomei and Catherine Keener as John’s put-upon ex.
Much like another midlife dramedy, Greenberg, the film’s domestic setting is a fitting backdrop that allows the actors to draw us in with each subtle nuance, whether it’s Cyrus milking Molly’s sympathy with his ‘night terrors’, or an exasperated John receiving a masterclass in fucked-up and dysfunctional behaviour. Shooting with the RED camera, the directors’ use of digital techniques is reminiscent of Lars von Trier’s experimental black comedy The Boss of it All, heightening our engagement with the characters as a staccato zoom hones in on every emotional detail.
Cyrus is a film about letting go, losing inhibitions and following new paths – the kind of cheese regularly mishandled by ham-fisted Hollywood rom-coms. But under the sophisticated guidance of an expert cast and crew, here it proves both charming and enlightening, with a mix of observational humour and heartbreak that stays with you.
Can Mumblecore go mainstream? We’re intrigued.
Laugh-out-loud one minute and thought-provoking the next. Perfectly crafted.
A fresh approach to the relationship comedy that will reward repeat viewings.