First there was Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"), then Mickey Rourke ("The Wrestler"), and now John C. Reilly ("Cyrus"). Marisa Tomei is starting to find a niche playing a middle-aged woman who's hot, opposite a guy who's not--a guy who's weathered, worn, or beaten down by life. A guy who's been beached at low tide.
Maybe that's where all the interesting roles are these days, but not the logic. Oh, sure, a guy may bring out the mothering instinct in a woman if he's needy, but it's confidence and projected strength that attracts a lover--not whiny, wimpy, pathetic behavior. In real life, if someone as "together" as Tomei had met the character Reilly plays--a slobbering drunk who can't seem to handle the news that his ex-wife has found someone else--she would have said something like "I need to get home to check on my sick mother" instead of taking him home with her to have a roll in the sheets.
That's curiously the one "popular" or contrived element in an otherwise realistic indie film about a strange kind of triangle--one between Molly, her new lover John, and the adult son who lives with her. Film fans who saw Jonah Hill in "Superbad" or "Get Him to the Greek" will be shocked at how straight and understated his role and this comedy is played. There are no Hollywood-style outrageous situations, no histrionics, and no grand series of events that test the relationship "Meet the Parents"-style. From the minute we're introduced to Cyrus, it's a very subtle battle of wits, with each man knowing what the other is up to, and the mother just a bit clueless.
Exhibit A: A framed picture that John picks up of Cyrus breast-feeding on Molly's lap, and he's fully dressed in jeans and so long-legged that you suspect he's around eight or nine.
Exhibit B: When this 21 year old has "anxiety attacks," Mom will sleep with him in his bed.
Exhibit C: John tells Cyrus that his mom is showering, and Cyrus opens the door and nonchalantly goes in, emerging moments later with Molly, who's still wrapping the towel around her.
Reilly reacts with the kind of "Huh?" that's the equivalent of a double-take or a facial shrug, and the narrative moves on.
That's the way it is with "Cyrus," a film from Jay and Mark Duplass ("Baghead," "The Puffy Chair"). It's as low-key as it gets, even when the something inevitably happens to force the two men to see each other in a slightly different way and make peace. Or rather, a truce, because nine-year-old breastfeeders don't give up their moms that easily. As the tagline says, "Seriously, stay off his mom."
In a world of character-driven vs. plot-driven films, "Cyrus" seems to focus on the situation itself--the way that the characters, thrust suddenly into this triangle, try to meet their own needs while on the surface seeming to consider others'. In that respect, it's a situational comedy without the hearty laughs. Anything funny is so mild that the film seems more dramatic, overall, than comedic. But that comes closer to life as it's lived.
"Cyrus" is an accomplished film that gives each of the three actors plenty of room to explore their characters and to ad lib. Nuanced point-of-view camerawork confirms that's what the filmmakers most care about, and "Cyrus" has the pacing and tone that often characterizes indie flicks. "Superbad" or "Step Brothers" it ain't. Laughs aren't the goal; seeing how true-to-life characters negotiate tricky relationships and situations is what the Duplass brothers clearly find more fascinating and worth filming. I'm just sayin' . . . because if you approach this like a Hollywood comedy or believe the MTV News cover blurb that it's "damn funny," you're going to be disappointed. It's an indie film in every sensibility of the word. What applies to the characters applies to the audience: Deal with it.
I can't put my finger on why, but I thought that the picture looked a little soft in scenes and also didn't have the visual "pop" that so many Blu-rays do these days. But close-ups reveal a nice amount of detail, and the film has a warm look to it that comes from colors that aren't oversaturated. I'm assuming this is all deliberate. "Cyrus" is life as it's lived, AND life as it appears. Skin tones and black levels are natural-looking but muted, which again is compatible with the overall feel that this film has. I saw no problems with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc. "Cyrus" is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
The audio isn't terribly dynamic, even for a dialogue-driven film. It's as if Fox could have gotten by with a Dolby Digital 5.1 instead of the DTS-HD MA 5.1, because there's not a lot of sound that emanates from the rear effects speakers. It's not a dynamic soundtrack, to say the least, with very little movement across the sound field and not much in the way of deep low bass. But at least the dialogue sounds clear and crisp and has a studio quality to it, even in exterior shots.
Other than a Q&A (8 min.) with the Duplass brothers that finds the two of them quirkily conducting a self-interview with their pre-school aged kids and two deleted scenes (8 min.), there's not much here besides a handful of promo-style clips that run around 4 min. each: a "music mash-up" with Reilly and Hill, shots of the Duplass duo at SXSW, the trailer, and two "Fox Movie Channel Presents" blurbs on Reilly and Hill. Of these, the deleted scenes are actually the most interesting to watch.
Although Mark and Jay Duplass were involved in an indie movement known as Mumblecore--characterized by low budgets, minimal camera work, heavily ad-libbed scripts, and twentysomething relationships--you can't call "Cyrus" a pure example of that type of cinema. It has a higher budget, for one thing, and focuses on a more complex interpersonal problem. But the energy level is the same, and "Cyrus" will appeal to the same audiences that have admired the Mumblecore directors and their work, even though it's more polished.