It is an unfortunate truth that many of the most sensitive and caring people in world also end up being the loneliest. There are few things more soul-crushing than wearing your heart on your sleeve, only to find yourself alone time and time again. I don't know if it's because he is, in fact, such a soul, or it's simply a testament to how underrated an actor he is, but John C. Reilly
is a master at playing characters with just such an affliction. Though Reilly is likely better known for his zanier comedy chops in movies like Walk Hard
and Talladega Nights
, and as Dr. Steve Brule on Tim & Eric's Awesome Show, Great Job!
, I think Reilly is at his best when he's allowed to play more sensitive, low-key characters, as he does here in Jay
and Mark Duplass' Cyrus
Reilly plays John, a deeply depressed man made even more deeply depressed when he finds out his ex-wife ( Catherine Keener
) is about to remarry. Middle-aged and seemingly trapped in his low-rent house, John is going nowhere socially. Keener, in a perhaps slightly guilty gesture, offers to bring John to a party so he can meet some new women, and hopefully get out of this funk. One problem: John is awkward beyond belief. His attempts at smooth talk give way into some kind of self-help version of Tourettes, where he finds himself unloading with brutal honesty every single depressing and desperate thing that's on his mind to any girl who will listen. Suffice it to say, this is not an effective method of picking up women—except, it seems, with one woman in particular.
This is Molly, played with her usual sweet-natured charm by Marisa Tomei
. Molly inexplicably finds John's insane earnestness charming, much to John's amazement. “What are you doing here with me,” he asks her. “I'm like Shrek.” Indeed, ashamed as I am to admit it, that slightly mongo-ish brow and scrunched face of Reilly's sometimes makes it difficult for me to buy into romantic relationships he has with beautiful women on screen. But Tomei has made a mint over the years playing the highly believable love interest to broken, haggard-looking men ( Philip Seymour Hoffman
, Mickey Rourke
, and Joe effing Pesci
, just to name a few), and her chemistry with Reilly is apparent from the get-go.
But hark! What goes there, but a complication! Because no movie can just let two sweet people be sweet to each other for 90 minutes, John soon encounters a roadblock to happiness in the form of Molly's grown son, Cyrus ( Jonah Hill
). It becomes quickly apparent that this boy ain't quite right. Between his hyperfriendly demeanor, blank, mouth-breathy, Kristen Stewart
-esque stares, and his barely veiled contempt for John's sudden existence in his and Molly's life (he calls her Molly, not mom, warning sign!), an average man might just go running, screaming away from this bizarre situation—but not John.
Here is the point in the movie where, if it were a bigger Hollywood comedy production, the rote slapstick antics and loud shouting matches and pop-music montages of John and Cyrus' war over Molly would kick into high gear. Thankfully, this is not that kind of movie. John and Cyrus' conflict is a might bit more understated than any of that, a war of facial expressions and subtle digs at one another. Cyrus is subversively insurgent as he tries to wreck their relationship, but John plays his game well, and refreshingly, there's hardly a moment of abject, boiled-over violence to be found anywhere in the movie, at least until the movie's regrettably middling climax at the wedding of John's ex-wife.
The Duplass Brothers, who have previously made mumblecore gems like Baghead
and The Puffy Chair
, are not big on changes in tone or energy. They seem to like their movies with a slightly flat affect, with few peaks or valleys along the way. I can appreciate that sort of thing, especially in the character work on display here. But from a storytelling perspective, it gives the movie a very slight feel. To be blunt, not an awful lot happens in Cyrus
. The comedy is in the dialogue and the interactions of these people, but in the few instances where the movie tries to make the drama or the comedy a little more event-based, it doesn't quite work. Also, at some point I found myself ready to barf a little bit due to the brothers' endless use of the quick-zoom camera technique. It's like watching your dad fumble with the zoom settings on a new camcorder, and at a point, it becomes straight up obnoxious.
But where the Duplass' screenplay and camera methodology might lack at times, the actors are always there to make up for it. Reilly is simply a delight to watch here, as he fumbles his way around this bizarre relationship, and Jonah Hill, it must be said, is better here than I've ever seen him. When I think of Jonah Hill, I tend think of him shouting at someone at 60-fucks-per-minute, looking like he's about to have a massive coronary in the process. There's almost none of that here. He gives what is, dare I say, a layered, nuanced performance as this creepbag kid. He isn't a one-note comedy villain, and he's a lot of fun to watch.
I can certainly see some people being unable to sit through Cyrus, given its unwillingness to deviate from a highly specific tone and pace, not to mention its occasionally gut-wrenchingly awkward comedy moments. But those flaws are trumped in spades by the strength of the performances on display. Give this one a chance, and you'll find a romantic comedy that's entirely refreshing in its un-romantic-comedyness.