From left, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly in "Cyrus." (Fox Searchlight)
"Cyrus" is one of those delightfully weird films that turns out to be more delightful than weird even as it walks a fine line that would scare off most filmmakers.
Luckily the Duplass brothers, writer-directors Mark and Jay, are not most filmmakers. They are far-indie auteurs bringing a "what the heck" sensibility to their first mainstream movie; and to their great credit, they go just far enough without going too far.
The basic premise is this: John (John C. Reilly) has been lonely for years now, ever since breaking up with his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener), who remains his best friend and somewhat reluctant confidante.
When Jamie drags a reticent John to a party one night, hoping he'll hook up with a woman, the unthinkable happens: He gets drunk, melancholy and rowdy and somehow ends up going home with the beautiful Molly (Marisa Tomei).
John can't believe his luck -- he's found the woman of his dreams. And then he finds out about Molly's son, Cyrus.
Cyrus (Jonah Hill) is a roly-poly live-at-home young grown-up who fancies himself a new age musician. And he is very, very close to his mother. They go to the park every day and take pictures together. On picnics, they end up rolling around in the grass, tickling one another.
John thinks this is weird. He asks for Jamie's input and she confirms, yep, it's weird. But not that weird. Cyrus is Molly's only child; they are all each other has had for a long time. Of course they're close.
But soon enough John realizes that Cyrus is out to sabotage his relationship with Molly, and Molly can't see the monster lurking within her own child.
Don't worry, no butcher knives appear here. The Duplass boys are out for edgy comedy. Still, it's not every day you see mainstream romantic comedy colored with hints of incest. The ghost of Oedipus haunts the laughs here.
Happily "Cyrus" gets just about everything right, pulling back just when you think the "yuck" factor may take over, painting its characters in human tones of desperation and competition. It's easy to feel sorry for lonely John at first, but then eventually the loneliness facing Cyrus becomes clear.
The truly lost character in all this is, of course, the deluded or just plain blind Molly, who can't tell Cyrus is playing her. Sweet as she is -- and no one is sweeter than Tomei when she turns on the dazzle -- it's still apparent that whomever wins her heart is also winning a somewhat troubled psyche.
Warm-hearted without becoming fuzzy, "Cyrus" is very much in keeping with previous little-seen but much-praised Duplass works such as "The Puffy Chair" and "Baghead." Character-driven, filled with the shaky close-up camerawork they love, improvised and crystal clear while still often leaving things unspoken, it is one of those rare conscious and successful marriages of indie spirit with mainstream talent.
"Cyrus" is a decidedly small film, but also a decidedly good one, the sort of movie that lets you know, yes, there are fine movies yet to come and, unbelievably, new talent and ideas to be enjoyed. Wish it success.
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