John meets Molly.
John likes Molly.
Incredibly, Molly likes John as well.
If only things were that easy.
That's "Cyrus" in a nutshell. Mark and Jay Duplass wrote and directed the picture, and it is a small intimate film that Fox Searchlight can absolutely sell like a mainstream hit. It is a smooth piece of satisfaction, and that's not soft praise. There's a light, effortless quality to the film. You never see any of the typical mechanics of plot. Each scene is polished, burnished by both the improvisation process during shooting and an exhaustive, precise editing schedule that they enjoyed on the film. This is a film as wise about the relationships between men and women as Albert Brooks in the "Modern Romance"/"Lost In America" phase of his career. This is a grown-up movie, and yet paralyzingly funny in places. It's uncomfortable, but it's not shot through with the casual misanthropic horror of a "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
"Cyrus" is an original, though, for all of the comparisons I just made. I'm just trying to describe a general reaction on my part. The film opens with John (John C. Reilly, who gives one of the best performances of his career here) being told by his ex-wife Jamie (the always awesome Catherine Keener, who is, not surprisingly, awesome) that she's going to be getting remarried to Tim (Matt Walsh). It has, after all, been seven years since she divorced John. Still, he hasn't moved on. He hasn't recovered. He hasn't even tried. Jamie talks him into going to a party with her and Tim, and he reluctantly agrees. At the party, he meets a woman, Molly (Marisa Tomei), and something clicks between them. It's just natural and real and a reaction that makes perfect sense as staged by the film.
The first fifteen or twenty minutes of the film, it's just John and Molly, slowly growing fond of each other, even though Molly has to slip away before morning every time she comes over. Finally, he has to follow her. He has to know if she's married. And in a way, what he finds is just as complicated, just as difficult. She has a son, 21-year-old Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who has been raised by Molly on her own, and their relationship is beyond close. It's inpeneterable. And from the moment John meets Cyrus, there is a tension. Is Cyrus a strange kid? Is he trying to sabotage John on purpose? And can John really make something work with Molly when she's already got someone who is her entire life?
There's a way to make this movie that is pure sitcom, and if you're familiar with the work that the Duplass Brothers have done before this like, you're probably wondering how their working style adapts to the Fox Searchlight thing. "The Puffy Chair" was a really lovely film, but it was incredibly small, shot like a documentary with a very small crew. Loose. Real. "Baghead" is the same thing. It's miniature nature is a big part of the appeal, a big part of their technique. Studios just don't work like that, but when your producers are Ridley Scott and Tony Scott and Michael Costigan and they all go to bat for you, and they understand that the way you work is part of why your work has a voice, then you probably get to shoot a film your way, and with the studio's support. And when that happens, sometimes you get very lucky and you get a film like "Cyrus."
I have literally loved John C. Reilly since his first film role, "Casualties Of War." He played Hatch, a sort of dim bulb follower of Sean Penn's Meserve, and it's a fascinating piece of work. So many of the things that still make him impossible to look away from when he's got the right piece of material were already in place, and over the years, he's had exceptional luck with opportunities, and he has taste. In his best roles, he shows a wild vulnerability, and sometimes, in the most insane comedies he's done, he turns that vulnerability up even more. It's something that I've never really seen anyone else do the same way. John is a perfect role for him. There's a real sense that he may have earned the divorce seven years ago, and that's a choice that so few actors would accept. It's not about being vain or not being vain... it's about telling the truth, and Reilly almost compulsively reveals truth that would make other people impossibly uncomfortable. It's like what fuels his work.
Jonah Hill so far has done some really strong work in films like "Superbad" and "Funny People" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," but he's never really done anything that approaches this. He is remarkable here, creepy and sad and off-putting and completely understandable. He has to play the same exact level of real that Reilly is playing, and they manage to create an rapport that doesn't feel rehearsed or safe or like what you'd see in a movie. None of the scenes play out the way you think they're going to, but it's not weird for the sake of weird. There's always a sense that any scene in the film could go in any direction, without warning, and the film would earn it. The reality between them would earn it. It's scary and funny at the same time, but not like most horror comedies try to do. It's scary because there's a chance that no matter how tough Hill would be to deal with as this character, Molly just might be worth it.
At the Q&A after the film, all the questions were for the Duplass Brothers or for John or Jonah. And I'm afraid that the really wonderful dynamic between the guys might lead the press to miss just how wonderful Marisa Tomei is here. Again. She's had an amazing last few years, and I think she's one of those people who has always had talent, but who aged into a richer, deeper version of that talent. She's the glue that holds this film together, the soul of the thing, and she makes the fight between John and Cyrus make sense. Cyrus has become totally dependent on his mother for good reason. She is his world, and she's always played that role happily. When John comes along, he upsets that. Suddenly she has someone else to give her energy to. To give her time to. To give her smile to. It's crushing because both guys have real claims on her. This isn't like the typical gerry-rigged Hollywood movie where the choice is The Nice Guy versus the Secret Dickhead, because Cyrus isn't defined that simply as a character. Cyrus is actually a complex person, a kid who was home-schooled, who's scared of the world and well aware of just how much control he has over his mother. But he does love her. Completely.
Shot with a simple, austere eye and elegantly constructed, "Cyrus" was a complete knockout, and Fox Searchlight will figure out how to sell this to the general public in a very big way. What's great is that Mark and Jay Duplass seem to have proven that they can work for the studios in a way that makes them happy, that allows them to make their movies, and that will reward the faith of the studios with genuinely great commercial fare.
Win. Win. Win.
There's no date yet set for "Cyrus," but there will be soon. I loved it.
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