Movie Review: Cyrus (2010)

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Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly in Cyrus
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

My first time watching Cyrus was following a trip that started in Nice, went through Amsterdam and finally found my feet on American soil in Seattle 26-hours later. Three hours after landing I was in a movie theater — not exactly ideal conditions. However, I came out liking the film, but felt a second viewing was in order, if only to flesh out my opinion, a decision I’m glad I made. As it turns out, I still liked Cyrus the second time around, just not as much as I did originally, and for very specific reasons.

Sold as a comedy, Cyrus centers on John (John C. Reilly), a desperate man who’s been divorced from his wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) for seven years and can’t seem to pick up the pieces. The two remain friends, but his feelings haven’t slowed, which makes dealing with the news she’s getting remarried all the more difficult. Upon receiving the news he also accepts an invitation to join Jamie and her fiance (Matt Walsh) at a party in an attempt to break him out of his shell and perhaps even meet somebody. Of course, that’s exactly what he’ll do.

Following a series of awkward and failed introductions, John has one more in store as he decides peeing in the host’s bushes is the best thing to do. This is where he’s caught by Molly (Marisa Tomei) quite literally with his pants down. Molly admits to overhearing one of his earlier flirtations and calls them “real” and “honest” and she respects him for it. To which this self-described “Shrek” of a man decides instead of talking further with the beautiful woman in front of him, he’ll rush off to embarrass himself again by singing over Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me“. While others at the party look on, John stumbles drunkenly around the living room singing at the top of his lungs until he’s saved by Molly joining him and a bond is made. Things appear perfect, but their blossoming relationship hits a speed bump once John meets Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly’s 21-year-old shut-in of a son, which is when I begin questioning the film’s intentions.

The second time around I had a hard time differentiating between what is comedy and what is drama. I mentioned Cyrus is “sold as a comedy” earlier, because that is exactly what the studio is trying to push, but I have a hard time looking at a massively overweight, 21-year-old shut-in with some serious social issues as funny. It’s in fact quite sad. This opinion, however, comes as a result of seeing the film a second time. The first time around I didn’t realize the complexity of his condition and laughed at the dysfunctional man-child in front of me. Having already seen it, I knew where the narrative was going and the same amount of laughter just wasn’t in me.

Much of Cyrus centers on honesty in relationships. Mumblecore features are dependent on feelings of reality, yet the film is just as duplicitous as Cyrus is toward John. Is it intentional? There’s a lot of heart found in Cyrus, much of it coming from John C. Reilly who plays a good guy with a kind heart and more patience than most of us would ever display (once Cyrus walks into the bathroom to pee while Molly is in the shower I would have been out of there). Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill also deliver great performances, it’s where the narrative is a bit fraudulent that the film loses a lot of its comedy. For these reasons I can’t help but wonder if this is a comedy, a sad sack drama or what exactly.

Film’s don’t need to fit nicely into one genre or another, but I shouldn’t have this much trouble trying to categorize it for myself at the very least. As much as I did enjoy a lot of this film, I must also admit it also left me mildly frustrated. Art should challenge us, but I can’t help but wonder if that was ever the Duplass brothers’ intention. Ideally, critics would write reviews after seeing films more than once all the time, but in this case it actually left me with more questions than answers. At the very least, this is a lot more than I can say about most of the other films this year.

GRADE: B