Monday, July 12, 2010

Livin' Large With CYRUS -- a review of the summer indie smash.

CYRUS Review:

- Cyrus is the kind of movie I'd like to see more of: understated yet awkwardly hilarious, out-there yet grounded. It's something original, and it's a movie that uses its excellent cast to full effect. Sometimes, actors need a movie of this sort to really show off what they can do. A movie that isn't overly processed, not created by committee. And that rings true of Cyrus - it's a career-best role for Jonah Hill as the title character. Hill is an actor who's been in several funny movies in a very short amount of time, but this is definitely something different for him, showing that he can be more than the scruffy everyman type he usually plays. John C. Reilly and Marissa Tomei have been in their share of diverse roles, and they are both almost always superb - so it's no surprise that they're also excellent in this one. Most of all, Cyrus is just a lot of fun to watch. The naturalistic performances and awkward humor make for an extremely entertaining film that just sort of sets up its premise and runs with it. In short, it's the perfect contrast to so many too-loud, too-flashy summer movies out at the moment.

The premise of Cyrus is one of those oh-so-simple ideas that is more about the execution than anything else. The film does a great job of introducing us to John (John C. Reilly), a sadsack, middle-aged guy who's seen better days. John's been divorced for seven years, and has been on a downward spiral of late - he's a slob, he drinks too much, and he has no social life other than a sort of sympathy-friendship with his ex (Catherine Keener - also great as always). One night, John is dragged to a party by his soon-to-be-remarried ex wife, and has a chance meeting with Molly (Marissa Tomei) - a free spirit who remarkably takes a liking to him despite his many issues. The two quickly hit it off and their relationship is off and running, and John couldn't be happier. That is, until he meets Cyrus - Molly's 21-year-old, live-at-home son (Hill), who is alternatively creepy, child-like, sinister, and antagonistic. Cyrus has a weird, almost obssessive relationship with his mom, and doesn't want anyone else to throw a wrench in their oddly symbiotic lifestyle, least of all John.

The stubborn kid who doesn't want a new guy to find happiness with his mom - it's a story we've seen many times before, but never quite in the way it's presented here. Like I said, the style of the movie is naturalistic and almost documentary-like. The film's writer/directors, the Duplass brothers, come from the indie world of "mumblecore" - slice of life movies with lots of improvised dialogue - and it shows. There's that very indie feel to the movie, stylistically, except we actually get A-list actors who are in top form. It's a potent mixture, and it really makes the movie click. As outrageous as some of the comedy in the movie can be, it still feels very relatable and realistic. Cyrus is weird, but he also seems like someone who could really exist - aka he's more than just a cartoon character.

I guess my only real complaint about the film is the same sort of issue that you often run into with this kind of movie -- it entertains you, but it doesn't exactly leave you with any sort of big takeaway. There are a lot of great little moments and details in the movie, but the big picture story never quite comes together, and you're never quite sure what to think of Cyrus and Molly and John. Is Molly in her own way just as messed-up as Cyrus, or is she worth fighting for, weirdness and all? Should John just run away from Molly, or is she his one true love? And what does she even see in John, who is also sort of a loser? The characters feel real, but at the same time, we never truly get a read on them, in a way. By the movie's end, you're not really sure what to think. Should we be happy? Sad? Depressed? Joyful? Cynical? Hopeful? It's not that the ambiguity is bad in and of itself, more just that it feels like the Duplass brothers aren't quite sure either of where the movie should go. They just sort of let things meander. And that's pleasant, in its own way, but it also feels a bit unfulfilling.

Still, it's a tribute to the actors involved that you leave the movie wanting more. You want to see more of Cyrus, more of John. You want to know more about how things end up for them all. For two hours, it's a lot of fun just hanging out with these interesting characters, and laughing at all of their quirky awkwardness.

My Grade: B+

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