Thursday, July 1, 2010

Love: Cyrus

Cyrus, unlike I Am Love, is a film with an impact that lessens with distance.  I correlate these movies now only because I saw them one after the next and where I Am Love suffered from an iffy beginning, Cyrus flickers out into a sort of mediocre end.  That's not a spoiler, it's just a fact.  Cyrus is a charmer of an indie-comedy that delivers all of its laughs, romance, and heart in a compact 90-minute package that's so easy to digest it feels as though the closing credits arrive prematurely.  With some films, you leave so enamored you just wanted more, but with Cyrus you feel like you've been deprived of that last piece of the narrative.  It ends too soon.  The climax came and went and you didn't even know it.  Still, if you can forgive a sub par endpoint in exchange for some genuine laughs, Cyrus is generally worth a look.

Mumblecore directors Mark and Jay Duplass (Baghead, The Puffy Chair) have successfully graduated to just left of mainstream cinema.  John C. Reilly tones down the over-the-top, Will Ferrell-fueled comedic persona of yore to play John, a lonely guy whose closest friend is his ex-wife of seven years (Catherine Keener).  When he's dragged to a party he somehow manages to connect with Molly, a quirky single mother (Marisa Tomei).  Suddenly, things are looking up.  The chemistry is there.  They can't get enough of each other.  There's just one thing... Molly's son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) is a fully grown, 21-year old dependent with ferociously possessive mommy issues and a deep understanding of psychological warfare.
Hill's persona is dialed down to an incredibly believable level of passive-aggressiveness.  He and Reilly play off of each other with a timing that's so perfect it displaces everything and everyone else in the film.  Tomei has personality, but compared to the fully realized characterization of John & Cyrus, she's overshadowed to the point of merely being an excitable anthropomorphized rope in the midst of a game of tug-o-war.  In fact, the entire romance becomes rapidly overshadowed as the movie swings swiftly from sweet little indie romance to a quieter, wittier version of Step Brothers.  There's something strange going on in the psychology between mother and son that should be uncomfortable, but remains oddly buoyant and easy to ignore.

In the end, the most I can say is that I liked Cyrus.  I did.  I laughed through a good portion of it and the dialogue was consistently well crafted and tonally spot-on.  Yet as the film rapidly ascended to promising heights of great potential, it arrived too quickly and decided to flatline in favor of some sort of easy out.  A bit of editing, a second run through the script and another 20 minutes of conflict could have shot Cyrus into an instant hit.  As it stands, though, Cyrus is merely good.  You can tap it on the head and say "that'll do, movie, that'll do", but as the days pass it drifts further and further into memory.

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