*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No, I don't usually like movies that feature quite a bit of improvisation and jerky cinematography. Nonetheless, 'Cyrus' has enough crazy moments in it, that it's actually kind of funny. This is not your usual laugh out loud comedy. Rather, it's a farce where we're asked to laugh at (not with) a set of sharply defined, passive-aggressive character types.
A central characteristic of the passive-aggressive personality type is that he/she rarely is able to express anger in a direct, forceful way. Instead, the anger is expressed in a series of short, aggressive bursts and passive retreats. The passive aggressive personality lives in a pressure cooker and inevitably must end up exploding. But once the explosion is over, they will end up where they started: in the same passive aggressive holding pattern, leading nowhere. Passive aggressives can also be thought of as belonging to the larger family of masochists who enjoy inflicting pain on themselves by not really letting go of their anger--by the same token, they appear to enjoy engaging in minor skirmishes, where they may win a minor battle or two but never can truly claim victory in an 'all out war'.
At the outset of 'Cyrus', we see that we're dealing with some very screwed up passive aggressive types. John's ex-wife, Jamie, aggressively enters his house without telling him and then catches him masturbating. At first, her reaction is normal, heading for the door, shrieking with great embarrassment after catching him in the act. But after listening to his lame explanation that he had "jock itch", Jamie passively tells him she didn't see anything and the confrontation dies.
If the characters in Cyrus were merely neurotic losers, the film wouldn't be very funny. Wisely, the film's scenarists, the Duplass brothers, also infuse their characters with some endearing qualities. John is spontaneous when he leads a group of party goers in the Human League's 80s hit, 'Don't you want me baby'; Cyrus has some great talent as a keyboardist/composer of electronic pop music; Molly is uninhibited and non-judgmental when she acts on her sexual impulses and Jamie is a supportive ex to John who suffers from low self-esteem.
But despite all the endearing qualities, the Oedipal conflict is too strong from preventing the two male suitors from going to war over the affections of Molly, torn in her roles as both mother and lover. There's a great scene after John moves in with Molly where they're about to make passionate love in the living room when Cyrus (who has let himself in), casually turns on the light and in a deadpan delivery, blurts out, "Sorry for interrupting". Instead of expressing their true feelings of genuine anger over having their lovemaking interrupted, John meekly exclaims, "Good to see you" and Molly, in an even more weak and half-assed voice, whispers, "Hi!"
There are other moments where Cyrus will do something outrageous such as going into the bathroom while his mother is taking a shower and John passively stews but takes no action. Not all of Cyrus' stratagems are necessarily passive aggressive posturing. When he decides to move out of his mother's house, he's clearly trying to manipulate her and succeeds; she's so wracked with guilt that she welcomes him back with open arms when he informs John that he intends to move back in (there's also a short kiss on the lips betraying the incestuous relationship that exists between mother and son).
Molly is also guilty of blatant passivity in the form of being a classic enabler. She's constantly making excuses for Cyrus by maintaining that he's been "going through so much" (taken in by his fake panic attacks and outright manipulative behavior). John's ex-wife, Jamie, also has a problem in confronting reality when she tells John that she believes Molly and Cyrus are perfectly normal--ignoring Cyrus' quirky behavior in ordering John to climb a tree, act like a 'jaguar' and scream at the top of his lungs.
The Second Act 'dark moment' (if you can call it that), is when John and Cyrus get into a fight at Jamie's wedding. Cyrus explodes in a jealous rage over John and Molly's continuing relationship and John retaliates over Cyrus hiding his shoes. This incident actually causes John to step out of his passive aggressive ways and speak plainly to Molly, when he asserts, "Open your eyes". The acceptance of reality is short-lived: Cyrus passively begs John's forgiveness, invites him back to the house and John meekly accepts at the film's end. Presumably, this truce will be short-lived and one has the distinct expectation that the minor border war between John and Cyrus will pick up soon enough again.
'Cyrus' is really a one joke idea focusing on the unhealthy relationship between the two male principals. The humor comes in the variations of the passive aggressive behavior of the characters. 'Cyrus' is not unlike Larry David's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' which is another kind of study of the passive aggressive personality. Not everyone will dig the humor of 'Cyrus'; but for the more patient film-goer, there are moments of true mirth that will pop up, as this exercise in passive aggressive shenanigans, plods along to its fitful conclusion.