A film starring John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill is going to attract a certain audience...And that is not the correct audience for this film. While Reilly is an accomplished dramatic actor, he's become well-known for appearing in successful comedies lately; Hill is best-known for his work in the Apatow-cannon. Cyrus is the type of film the average moviegoer dismisses as "too weird" or "not funny," which both miss the point entirely. To use a term I'm not fond of, Cyrus is a "dramedy," that seamlessly blends both comedy and drama avoiding cheap punchlines and dramatic, emotional cues. If you think Step Brothers is the "best movie ever" and you're expecting typical Jonah Hill-fare, this is not your movie. If you watch it with an open mind, you'll find it quite rewarding.
John C. Reilly plays John, still wallowing in loneliness seven years after his divorce. Now, his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) is getting re-married and she takes John to a party in the hope that he'll find himself a girlfriend. He does, in the form of a beautiful woman named Molly (Marisa Tomei). When John becomes curious about Molly's secretive nature he follows her home and meets her 21-year-old son Cyrus (Hill). Cyrus comes off a bit weird, but friendly but John notices the relationship between Molly and Cyrus is rather unconventional; they share a close bond that borders on the near incestuous. John becomes suspicious of Cyrus' motives very quickly, but finds himself in a rut not wanting to damage his new relationship with Molly.
The film moves at a very quick pace and boasts a solid script although writer/directors Jay & Mark Duplass do allow their actors a lot of room for improvisation. Their characters are rather unconventional, but realistic and the film plays off their reactions to the awkwardness around them perfectly. There's a refreshing dynamic between the characters too, especially between John and his ex-wife Jamie. This is not a bickering, spiteful former couple but a mature, supporting one. They have a camaraderie with each other that we don't see often and it doesn't seem like a stretch. The always reliable Catherine Keener is perfectly charming and believable as a woman who wants her ex-husband to find happiness and is willing to set aside important things in her life to lend an ear.
Much of the film is an exercise in understatement. Reilly has proved his acting chops, but it's nice to see him take a break to do something a bit more down-to-earth. He nails the role of the confused, but well-meaning John who has finally found something special and is determined to make it work. Tomei is always good at playing sweet, but she has to add a level of maturity, dedication, and obliviousness with slightly Oedipal overtones into a convincing, subtle performance. In doing this, she makes a complicated role effortless. Hill hasn't gotten too much notice for his performance, but it's a substantial turn from his typical stuff. The role of Cyrus requires Hill to seem well-mannered, manipulative, and child-like while still getting an audience to empathize with him. This is a psychologically complex role that Hill really steps up to the plate for. His performance as Cyrus is
really something special and a small step into proving himself as an actor that can handle both comedy and drama. While he doesn't completely abandon that Jonah Hill persona, there are more layers to this performance than many will admit or give him credit for.
The roles are well-written, but it's the understated performances that really bring these characters off the page. Had any actor made a slight misstep, it could've derailed the film's credibility. This is especially true in a film that relies on character interaction, where the slightest wrong nuance could've killed a whole scene's credibility. This is a film that relies on it's actors ability and there's some great comedic banter between John and Cyrus, each trying to gain the upper hand for Molly's affection juxtaposed with some very realistic, dramatic exchanges. The dialogue isn't flashy movie dialogue; it's very subtle, straight-forward and has much more of an impact in the loose, improvisational delivery.
The film's cinematography (even for those who don't know what cinematography is) may take some getting used too. It makes frequent use of the zoom lens and feels amateurish, but it eventfully becomes apparent that it's perfectly suited for the tone of the movie. As I said, this is not a film for the people the marketing tried to gear it towards. Many will be disappointed, but you've been warned.
Cyrus is a wonderful surprise. An understated, underrated, low-key blend of comedy and drama that provides chuckles and a fair amount of poignancy. It's a smart film that gives some terrific actors the chance to really make use of their skills and it's one of my favorite films of 2010. If you're in the mood for something a little different, you'll find Cyrus to be quite a treat.