Jonah Hill plays a man-baby who stands between his mother Marisa Tomei and her potential happiness with John C. Reilly in Cyrus, a dark and funny entry in the comedy-of-awkwardness genre.
John (John C. Reilly) describes himself as being in a tailspin. His ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) is about to remarry and he seems to have sunk into a deep and unending funk, one that — due to his work as a freelance editor — is more or less human-contact-free. Jamie drags him to a party in an attempt to force some people into his life, resulting in some of the saddest attempts to talk to women ever captured on film (telling a woman you’re in a tailspin, for example, is probably not a great way to open). Miraculously, John strikes up a bit of a flirtation with Molly (Tomei), a woman who catches him peeing in the bushes. After a moment of impromptu karaoke actually enlivens the party, John comes off looking less like a drunken sad sack and more like a fun time. He and Molly end up at his place and, even more miraculously, she leaves a note for him with her actual phone number. Considering the extraordinarily piteous state of John in the movie’s opening scenes (Jaime walks in on him, er, insert your monkey- or bishop-related euphemism here), Molly seems like a fluke as great as a lottery win on the day you’ve been struck by lightning.
John feels much the same way, appearing shocked when she agrees to hang out with him the next night. When she tiptoes out in the wee hours, though, he starts to wonder: married? Something worse? He follows her to her home and the next morning, snoops around her yard, peering behind the fence before nearly running smack into Cyrus (Hill).
Cyrus is in his early twenties. Upon inviting John in, he plays some of his music for him — a strange dance music synthesizer thing that Cyrus approaches with freakish intensity and which appears to be the sole (unpaid) work of his life. That Molly doesn’t seem to be as shocked as most of us would that a man she’s hung out with twice stalked his way into her living room is perhaps a warning sign that her crazy is going to be bigger than his. Cyrus appears to be accepting of John — inviting him to stay for dinner, appearing to be A-OK with John staying the night. But John’s not sure. Little things — his shoes go missing, for example — leave him wondering if Cyrus’s too-close relationship with Molly will prevent John from achieving the kind of relationship he’s been aching for.
Everybody’s family is weird — weirder still if you’re not a part of it. Is Molly just a really caring mother or is she suffocating? Is Cyrus just dedicated to the woman who raised him alone or does he need to cut the cord with the woman who breastfed him until, based on a picture on her dresser, he was at least four? Cyrus’s relationship with Molly is definitely out of the norm but the question John has is whether it is destructive — to his chances with Molly and ultimately to both Molly’s and Cyrus’ chance at lasting happiness. And, of course, if anyone knows how destructive an unhealthy relationship like this can be, it should be John, whose relationship with Jamie is fairly similar to the needy giant toddler Cyrus’s with his mother.
That these characters aren’t so off-putting as to push you out of the theater is a credit to the three actors. Hill, mostly known for his roles in movies in the Judd Apatow universe, does a serviceable job of giving us the strange unknown cipher that is Cyrus. Tomei allows us to believe that a woman could be both smart and relatively together but still blind to some basic problems with her grown son. Her character could have been a cartoon of cluelessness but she manages to make Molly a person that we can believe that John genuinely likes. And then, of course, there’s Reilly, who is a walking rumple. He is all furrows and wrinkles and appears to be a man slowly pulling himself out of the murk he’s been living in. Watching these people interact is the treat in Cyrus, even when their behavior starts to make Larry David look like an outgoing, well-adjusted positive thinker. B
Rated R for language and some sexual material. Written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, Cyrus is an hour and 32 minutes long and distributed in limited release by Fox Searchlight. It is currently playing at Red River Theatres in Concord and the AMC in Methuen, Mass., and is slated to play at Wilton Town Hall Theatre in the coming weeks.