Thursday, December 1, 2011


The titular character is a large boy, 22 years of age, who lives at home with his mother, Molly. They're very close. They go to the park every morning, taking pictures of nature and playfully wrestling on a picnic blanket. He composes songs on his keyboards (one of many in their living room) for her. He goes into the bathroom and sings along with her while she showers. She lies with him in bed when he has panic attacks at night. Invisible audience, are you crying "Oedipus complex!" yet?

One night, Molly (Marissa Tomei) spies a shlubby guy named John (John C. Reilly) urinating in the bushes. "Nice penis!" she tells him. It is a great moment for John, the first good one after a night of striking out with the ladies at a party to which his ex-wife of 7 years, Jamie (Catherine Keener) invited him. Jamie had recently told John was getting remarried. He was devastated. As 2010's CYRUS plays out, we will also see another odd relationship, between John and Jamie.

But back to John and Molly. After their funny/awkward first meeting, they immediately click. She appreciates his lack of embarrassment (though he is piss drunk at the moment), and he further proves this by running back inside to the party to sing along with Human League's "Don't You Want Me". The new couple fall into bed that very night, but she slips out in the wee hours, leaving a note telling him what an awesome time she had.

After another similiar date, and no explanations as for her hasty exit, John decides to follow Molly home. On his stakeout, he falls asleep in his car overnight, then eventually walks up to Molly's front yard, and is eventually discovered by Cyrus, her son. He seems friendly and personable, inviting John in and even sharing one of those musical masterpieces with him. Soon enough, John will learn just what a not-so-little fly in the ointment Cyrus really is.

The set-up makes CYRUS sound like another of those dreadful, child-of-divorce/divorcee-attempts-to-sabotage-parent's- new-relationship movies. That is not entirely inaccurate. However, viewers expecting MAN OF THE HOUSE or any of its ilk will quickly be bored and/or frustrated. This film is not a slapstick ballet of lighthearted comic warfare. The ensuing struggle between the 2 males grows a bit darker with each scene before the inevitable meltdown and aftermath. As I assessed this movie, I concluded that Cyrus isn't so much a bad seed or evil as just confused.

And very self-aware. Jonah Hill plays the young man as a very subtly conniving juvenile, all outwardly gracious and disarming. After several scenes of his passive-aggressive behavior designed to make his mother feel guilty and John feel like a selfish bastard, the men finally throw off the gloves and acknowledge their intentions. Cyrus will use any means necessary to be rid of the new man. Through that, Cyrus gradually also acknowledges, even verbally, that he is messed up. Er, something along those lines.

But he isn't the only one. Molly is almost as guilty, enabling her son at every opportunity, giving in and giving in at maybe the cost of her own happiness. Tomei convincingly creates this character with the right amount of vulnerability and without chewing the scenery. She seems a bit childlike herself as she tries to maintain an adult relationship with John, requiring him to be open and honest and yet she repeatedly violates her own criteria.

John is basically an overgrown adolescent, clinging to his ex-wife in ways that more than suggest he never moved on or learned how to be friends with others of the opposite sex. Even as his fondness for Molly grows, he continually disrupts Jamie's time with her new fiance, seeking her as a sounding board. With the increasing difficulty of dealing with Cyrus, John will bombard his ex with more requests for psychotherapy than she is willing to (or should) offer. Is Jamie an enabler as well?! Is there a single healthy relationship in this picture?

Writers/directors Jay and Mark Duplass' film does sometimes feel like a couch session, sometimes at the cost of ingratiating the audience. Reading back over my summary, I feel as if I'm analyzing real acquaintances of mine. This is a far from perfect movie, but it does not flinch from the uncomfortable scenarios that would naturally fester out of the plot. The script is sometimes predictable and sometimes not, leading to a final scene that will not please those who want confirmation and resolution in their movies. To me, it was just right.

My major carp with CYRUS? It looks like a television program, albeit a high quality HBO series. Digital video is increasingly sucking the life out of cinema. While Michael Mann sometimes makes it work, the Duplass brothers produce a movie that is visually without soul. Cinema should be cinema, with wide compositions and expanse of scope. Every technical aspect in this "movie" (editing, photography, soundtrack, lighting) falls short of making this worth the effort to see in a theater (I didn't). Plus, that "snap zoom" that we see in every other shot gets highly annoying. It's really bush league. It screams "indie-lite". Or, "television".

Movies, when inspired, are like paintings. Television is rarely if ever more than a really good photograph. Think on that a bit. Where does this description leave CYRUS?

But....I admired the acting. The screenplay gives a good foundation for each character, and the actors, all of whom have been impressive before, do very well here. But it's unlikely that I'll want to revisit this movie anytime soon.
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