I love CYRUS. It’s a movie that’s honest, funny, dark and moving. I haven’t seen a sweeter more unlikely romance on screen in years – and rarely one in which the characters are at once so spiky and unusual and yet express such honest emotion. John C Reilly plays a basically good guy, also called John, who is still reeling from divorce and lacks the confidence to date again. Pushed to a party by his remarkably tolerant ex-wife (Catherine Keener) he stumbles upon the beautiful Molly (Marisa Tomei). The scene in which they meet could be taught in film-school as a lesson in how to subvert the “meet-cute” with something far more surprising. There’s a drunk, dejected guy pissing against a tree and a woman walks by and says “Nice penis!” I mean, what an awesome reaction! Immediately we know that’s she’s got an off-beat sense of humour. And then John starts talking to her and immediately denigrating himself: “What are you doing in the garden with Shrek?” But as much as he thinks he’s scored, he’s so drunk and, in a sense, so innocent, that when the Human League’s “Don’t you want me?” starts playing he basically brushes her off to go dance in the living room. Of course he makes a complete ass of himself, but the most amazing thing happens. Rather than being weirded out by what a drunk loser he is, the hot chick saves him by dancing and singing too. I think this is pretty much the most genuinely cute meet-cute I’ve seen.
There is, of course, a glitch to this odd-couple romance, otherwise we wouldn’t have a narrative arc. Molly has a son called Cyrus. And Molly and Cyrus have a very un-boundaried relationship. Cyrus is the kind of kid who should have grown up and gone to college and gotten a girlfriend but is so molly-coddled by his mother that he has become self-centred and unstable. He is massively threatened by John, who he sees as a rival for his mother’s attentions and basically tries to sabotage the relationship. This leads to a comedy of manners in which both Cyrus and John pretend to be getting on well to please Molly but are secretly sabotaging each other. Things come to a head and John’s ex-wife’s wedding where all the bitterness is exposed. This leads to a truly amazing third act, where the movie turns from indie rom-com into tragic-drama, as Cyrus and Molly confront how messed up their relationship is.
I love CYRUS on so many levels it’s hard to know where to begin. John C Reilly has that great mix of being able to act both as a loveable chump but also as a wily reader of the messed up relationship he encounters. Marisa Tomei is one of those charming actresses with whom you’re happy to spend time. But the actor who really impressed me was Jonah Hill, who for the first time managed to beyond his smart-ass, slightly weird screen persona and deliver a heart-breaking redemption scene. Behind the camera, I think you have to give the writer-director Duplass Brothers mad props for managing to portray a situation that could have been gross – oedipal complex plays out – as basically sweet, but never cloying. I also love the fact that no scene or line is wasted. There’s an economy to their screenwriting and editing that could also be held up to film students. A classic example is the way in which they handle what would conventionally be a montage scene – mixing visuals with audio from another scene – and audio that sounds improvised and natural. And maybe that’s the biggest achievement of all. The Duplass Brothers have taken a caricatured movie situation – ludicrously clingy son sabotages mum’s relationship – and have used that as a hook for dialogue that actually sounds real, and so moves us.
CYRUS played Sundance 2010 and was released earlier this year in the US, Canada, France, Finland and the UK. It opens later this month in Belgium and in November in Russia, Germany and the Netherlands.