It’s rare to find a film that brims with sweetness while bearing no illusions about the shittiness of the world it inhabits. Or the foibles and faults of its characters.
Cyrus begins like a Judd Apatow film: John (John C. Reilly) is caught masturbating to hook-up-hop by his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener), who is getting re-married soon and wants to help him move on.
Jamie and her fiancée drag John to a party, hoping to help him rebound, or at least get out, which leads to sullenness, then drunkenness, then feeble passes at all manner of women.
The film detours sharply, though, into less staid territory with the introduction of Molly (Marisa Tomei), a woman who is kind and beautiful, who has a soft-spot for broken people and who is clearly hiding something. That night, she and John have a dance party to a Human League song — as people of their generation are wont to do — and go home together, beginning a sweet, bright romance with a few brief, brilliant moments of tension.
The strangest thing about John’s night with Molly isn’t the hook-up. It’s that Molly got a night away from her 21-year-old son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), to whom she is still connected by a psychological umbilical cord and who, as you might expect, is a little needy.
Cyrus is cordial to John when they meet, but the kid feels off. Just how off isn’t clear. By the time we see him, at 2 am, in an oversized nightshirt and tighty whities, clutching a chef’s knife in the half light, it’s not hard to imagine Cyrus becoming a horror film. It’s one thing to keep a plot twisty. To keep genre as fluid as the Duplass brothers have is an accomplishment.
While Reilly is passable in a role that deliberately lacks charm, Tomei and Hill shine in different parts of the dramatic spectrum. Tomei is giving to a fault. Hill is selfish and solipsistic and … maybe evil? His is not a performance of strong words, but of cold blank stares.
Cyrus is a short movie (just 91 minutes), but it doesn’t lack for ideas. It seems the Duplass brothers decided it was better to use the best material, get in and out, so that these characters — who bear a striking resemblance to real people — can get on with their lives.
There are no great acts of penance, no long-winded soliloquies. Cyrus doesn’t need them.
There is no balcony for Molly to stand on while John woos her — unless you count the porch of her bungalow, which is the scene of a simple, sweet, wordless exchange between the two.
There are hilarious lines in Cyrus, but the film lives and breathes in its silences.