I was never very fond of John C. Reilly. I thought he was the worst
part of Chicago and I haven’t seen much from him in the way of
acting talent or comedic ability. Then came Cyrus.
Reilly plays the lead in this movie, also named John, and he fits
into the role like a hand in glove. John is an emotional and awkward
shlub who’s down on his luck, especially in matters of love. I believed
it instantly, because… well, just look at the guy! I hate to sound
like a jerk here, but Reilly is pug-ugly and he plays hangdog perfectly.
It also helps that Reilly has a total lack of ego, which helps
immensely when we first meet him: John literally spills all of his
emotional baggage onto a total stranger with no provocation and
drunkenly sings karaoke to “Don’t You Want Me.” Sure, it’s rather
ham-fisted characterization, but it gets the point across quickly and
provides a few laughs in the process. It’s also worth noting that John
is divorced, which adds another emotional layer to his romance arc: He
knows what it’s like to fall in and out of love and that isn’t an
experience he’s eager to repeat. It’s a sad but understandable
sentiment, perfectly suited to gain audience empathy.
Marisa Tomei is Molly, the female lead, and it’s obvious from her
(hilarious) first two words to John that she’s too good to be entirely
true. Tomei is very sweet here, but I never completely understood what
it was that first brought her to John. Their chemistry is surprisingly
good once it finally gets going, but I just couldn’t get what sparked
it. Another unfortunate problem is that Molly is defined entirely by the
two male leads, though I suppose that comes with the premise. This is,
after all, a story about a guy who falls in love with a woman, unknowing
that she has a weird son. Fortunately, the relationship between Molly
and Cyrus is a dense and peculiar riddle that’s never entirely
explained. The movie always kept me guessing how much of the weirdness
comes from Molly and how much is due to Cyrus, which is really a credit
to Tomei, the Duplass brothers and Jonah Hill.
The latter really surprised me as the eponymous Cyrus, especially
since Hill’s turn in Get Him to the Greek was still fresh in my
mind. Fortunately, Cyrus is like the polar opposite of Aaron Green.
Aaron was a character who had only a bare minimum of intelligence, had
zero backbone and talked too much for his own good. From his
introductory scene, it’s obvious that Cyrus has a surprising amount of
intelligence, though it’s hidden behind a constantly straight face and a
near-monotone voice. The character is full of surprises, such as that
unlike most early-twenties slackers pursuing a career in music, Cyrus
has a full studio of synthing equipment and he’s not half bad at using
it. John is a man who openly wears his heart on his sleeve while Cyrus
is a puzzle box full of riddles.
When the two finally come into conflict, it’s no contest. From the
very beginning, Cyrus plays John like a Rubik’s Cube. He just toys
around with John at first, but when John eventually decides to start
fighting back, the results are funny as hell. Reilly and Hill play off
each other perfectly, aided by sure direction and some very sharp
writing. The open warfare only lasts for about fifteen minutes, but the
setup helps make it worth the price of admission all its own.
Unfortunately, the movie goes slightly downhill afterwards, heading
into a disappointingly predictable and formulaic third act. Still, the
strength of the writing, casting and direction is enough to see this
Last but not least among the cast are Catherine Keener and Matt
Walsh, playing John’s ex-wife and her new fiancee, both of whom have the
patience of saints. John is a very clingy guy by his nature, so of
course he still goes to his ex for all of his emotional support needs.
Jamie knows this full well and still has a soft spot for him, so she
deals with this as best she can. Tim, meanwhile, knows what he’s
marrying and gives his fiancee’s romantic baggage (read: John) more
leeway than any other man would surely grant. Keener is amazing here.
With pure emotion, she makes it clear to the audience precisely why
Jamie broke up with John and would never get back with him in a million
years, though she still brings just enough spark left over from her old
marriage. It’s a very complex balance and she manages it beautifully.
Technically, this movie is decidedly unspectacular. The camerawork,
editing and music are all designed around a cinema verite aesthetic that
brings a great amount of intimacy to the proceedings. In fact,
“intimate” is a pretty good word for the movie.
Cyrus is nothing more or less than a purposefully mundane
slice-of-life rom-com. It’s not exactly must-see material, but the cast
is strong, the writing is sharp, the direction is solid, the humor is
very funny and the characters are full of heart. I don’t think it’s
worth spending full price on, due to the relatively weak third act, but
I’m still giving it a recommendation because of how hard it is to find a
romantic comedy that’s genuinely romantic and a laugh-out-loud comedy.