I’ve probably written a variation of this thought a hundred times now, but it doesn’t get any less true: the brilliant thing about what the Duplass Brothers do in their movies is that they take conceits that could, in other hands, be big bombastic silly comedies and turn them into real movies with real human characters at the core. Cyrus star John C Reilly was already in a big studio version of this movie; it was called Step-Brothers and it had him as a manchild who refused to grow up. But where Adam McKay went for goofy, the Duplass Brothers go for humanity, and more than a surprising amount of sweetness.
Reilly plays John, a man still stunned and laid low by his divorce from Catherine Keener seven years before. John lives in a filthy house and spends all day jerking off to internet porn (and likely leaving nasty messages on the CHUD comments section), until his ex forces him to go to a party, where he meets the woman of his dreams. Marisa Tomei is Molly, a beautiful woman who finds John’s pathetic state touching and who, rather than laugh at him as he drunkenly tries to turn a hipster party into a dance party, joins in and gets everybody else dancing. She’s attracted to the vulnerability and maybe even his immaturity.
The relationship starts strong, but Molly has a secret; her grown son, Cyrus, still lives at home with her. And their relationship is very… strange. Rather than wait for Molly to get out of the shower, Cyrus joins her. And as John begins hanging around more he starts to suspect that Cyrus’ seemingly nice exterior is hiding a nasty plan to break his mother up with her newest beau, her first in decades.
The comedy in this is obvious. The Duplass Brothers almost never go for it. The movie’s very funny, but not set piece funny or big joke funny. Cyrus is the kind of movie where a well-placed ‘Fuck you’ is a major laugh line. The humor comes from simple moments between the characters, and both John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill, playing Cyrus, play their parts with a restraint they don’t usually exhibit in the Apatowverse. And it’s incredibly refreshing and real; you laugh throughout the runtime of Cyrus but also are able to keep touch with these people as real characters.
What’s perhaps most surprising about Cyrus is how human and sweet it is. It would be very easy to turn Cyrus into a monster for jokes and then offer him a standard, boring third act change of heart, perhaps after the escalating war between John and Cyrus reaches ridiculous heights. Instead the Duplass Brothers (and their actors, who improv the movie in standard mumblecore style) give everybody an inner life right from the start, and the movie isn’t about John and Cyrus topping each other with absurdity but finding common ground in the end.
I know, that doesn’t sound funny. I swear to god it is. The competition between John and Cyrus is filled with hilarious moments, and this is definitely not a touchy feely film. It’s possible that the film is a touch too gentle for some audiences, who will be disappointed by the lack of scatological humor or sight gags or slapstick, but people who are looking for a funny movie with some excellent performances (easily the best work Jonah Hill has ever done, and the work closest to revealing himself in a big way on screen), will find a lot to love with Cyrus.
8.5 out of 10