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Non-Review Review: Cyrus

Cyrus is a film that it’s hard to work up passion about in either direction. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, to be entirely honest – I don’t actively dislike it or anything like that. It’s just an honest reflection on this attempt to merge the indie “mumblecore” sensibilities with more conventional mainstream movie-making. It’s funny in places, and features a great cast, but it ultimately feels far too self-assured, and more like it’s comfortable with its indie-movie clichés, rather than trying to tell its own story.

Family dysFUNction...

At its core, Cyrus is about the conflict between two man-children over a woman. John is a divorced loser living in his own filth who meets and falls in love with Molly, but doesn’t factor on her twenty-one-year-old, stay-at-home son, who is determined not to share his mother with another man. It’s an interesting set-up, but it feels like the Duplas Brothers are playing it all just a little bit too safe with this family vibe. It’s never pushed so far into the realm of the ridiculous that it becomes a full-blown mainstream comedy, but it’s also never given enough depth to seem like an indie portrait of a dysfunctional family dynamic. It just sort of is.

When we first meet John, he seems to be a parody of the typical Judd Atapow comedy protagonist, the overgrown man-child. His ex-wife walks into his small home to find discarded food and drink everywhere, John seemingly unable to care for his own needs, and walks in on John pleasuring himself. As the grown woman, she’s delegated the role of surrogate mother, trying to coax John into finding his way to the dating scene – as if looking for another surrogate mother to care for him. Attempting to convince him to attend a party, she treats him like a stubborn teenager. “It’s a great party. Very cool people. People who would stimulate you intellectually… and I, you know, I hear really, really kinda great chicks.”

The daddy of all mummy issues...

At the party, John uses awkward pick-up techniques that might have worked in his late teens, but seem pathetic now. He’s caught by Molly urinating in the buses, hardly the act of a responsible adult. He might be slightly drunk, but John seems to lack any sort of attention span. “Wait,” he tells Molly, who has been polite enough to engage him in conversation, “I’m sorry. Wait right here. It’s the greatest song ever recorded, and I’m gonna go enjoy it and I’m gonna come back and talk to you.” John never seems especially grown up, even when compared against Molly’s deadbeat son. Indeed, he appears to have the same sort of emotional dependence on his ex-wife that young Cyrus has on his mother, running off to her at the first sign of trouble, indifferent to how his problems might interfere with her own plans.

However,  the commentary never feels quite as pointed as it should. For all that he feels like a commentary on the emotionally stilted and immature protagonist of modern comedies, John doesn’t get enough character growth to ever become interesting himself. Which is a shame, because the Duplas brothers follow the fairly conventional romantic comedy plotline – which is a template for a reason, but problems arise when it isn’t executed well. The movie has an ending, but never seems certain of how it got there. The resolution requires both Cyrus and John to change who they are, but the movie doesn’t convince us of any real growth – there’s about thirty seconds of a montage that demonstrate where the shift in character motivation is coming from, but it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

Park life...

The cast do a great job with the material on-hand. John C. Reilly is a great actor, but he hasn’t necessarily made the best choices of late, and he’s stuck in a relatively bland and disappointingly conventional role. Marisa Tomei is trapped in a similar position, as Molly never seems like anything more than the object over which the two male protagonists in the story must wage an emotionally immature war. Jonah Hill is solid as Cyrus, and he does well with the film’s juiciest role, skilfully creating the impression that there’s something very seriously wrong with the kid, but never seeming psychotic. It’s a nice role, and Hill is good in it.

The movie itself is functional. It’s entertaining, even if it does feel a bit like the script is a bunch of indie movie clichés trotted out one after another. There’s the organic manner in which the cast deliver their lines, the sense of a portrait of dysfunctional family life, the comedy based on socially awkward moments. All of these are handled well, and they’re smart, but they do feel a little bit like the writers were just working off a set of ingredients they felt obligated to include.

Cyrus is in the mix...

It’s strange, because the material could easily have gone much darker or much lighter. It could almost have been a straight-up R-rated comedy, and one can almost sense the similarities to Step Brothers in the completely immature interpersonal conflicts between two men who refused to grow up. On the other hand, it could easily have become so much darker, as the film explores the uncomfortable closeness that Molly and Cyrus share, using the bathroom at the same time, and sleeping with their doors open at night. “Don’t &#$% my mother,” Cyrus seems to warn John at one point, only for the movie to go on a socially awkward tangent about how John has indeed had sex with Molly, which serves to diffuse (or at least distract from) the obviously creepy Oedipal subtext.

In the end, the film sits somewhere in the middle. It’s not a bad place to be, despite what some critics would have you believe. It’s witty and charming, but surprisingly inoffensive given its subject matter and themes. It’s a movie that you probably won’t regret watching, but I don’t think it’ll stay with me too long after the credits role.

2 Responses

  1. I had a hard time with the film and remember very little about it afterward.

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