ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "CYRUS" HITS THE MOTHER LODE

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By Brian Lafferty

 

July 2, 2010 (San Diego's East County)--There is a scene at the beginning of Cyrus in which John (John C. Reilly) tries to pick up a woman at a party. The problem is he can’t get the words out and gives up. Later, he meets another woman, Molly, (Marisa Tomei) who describes the conversation he had as raw and honest. Those two words are not just true about the failed pick-up: they accurately describe this movie.

 

In real life, whenever we say something we know we won’t get a retake, nor can we have what we say edited out. Every scene in Cyrus is played like a first take but that’s not bad because it captures the characters at their most rawness.

 

John is a divorced, unhappy man. He grudgingly agrees to go to a party his soon-to-be remarried ex-wife is throwing. There, he meets Molly. It isn’t long before they quickly hit it off but their relationship hits a snag when he meets her grown-up son, Cyrus.

 

Cyrus is the type of man whose picture you would find in the dictionary under the term “Mama’s Boy.” We get a sense of this when John sees a picture of Molly breastfeeding Cyrus…who appears to be around five years old. The door separating his bedroom from his mother’s has to be open during the night. This dependence starts off as merely annoying but it becomes a major threat to John’s relationship with Molly.

 

In a typical Hollywood romantic comedy, there would be lots of predictable physical humor, cliches, and one-dimensional characters. But because this is an independent film, none of that happens here. It does follow the formula, but it works because it is all about the characters. They are real three-dimensional people, not shrill, stuck-up, and idiotic caricatures. They are likeable and given their own unique quirks and that is where the humor comes from.

 

John is hopelessly socially awkward, always finding ways to embarrass himself. A number of gags come from Cyrus’ dependence on Molly, such as him being freely allowed to walk into the bathroom while she takes a shower. One running gag involves John’s obsession with figuring out why Cyrus stole and hid his shoes.

 

Don’t go in expecting constant belly laughs. The humor is subtle. I was reminded of one of last year’s best movies, the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man. These two movies go against the absurd oversimplification that if people don’t laugh at a movie, it’s not funny; this is the type of film that may not make you laugh a lot, but deep down you know it’s funny.

 

Jonah Hill stretches his acting muscles and goes beyond his familiar uptight, perpetually frustrated, profanity-spewing persona. He plays a very likeable, believable mama’s boy. He isn’t a big brat; I could see in his eyes, facial expressions, and body language that Cyrus is genuinely fearful of losing his mother.

 

The dialogue is not your typical glossy Hollywood speech. All the characters speak like normal people do. Sentences always contain “uh,” “er,” “you know,” and “like.” Characters often don’t finish sentences and stumble whenever they speak. In other words, these speech patterns make the characters into real people.

 

Also lending realism to this picture is the constant handheld camera. Those easily prone to motion sickness can rest easy; no queasycam here. It doesn’t just give the film a cinema verite feel that many movies like it strive for. It made me feel like a participant being there with the characters, listening in to their conversations.

 

Cyrus is a welcome relief from recent Hollywood romcoms. Unlike them, this picture is very much romantic and comedic. It adds two more dimensions to its repertoire: the dialogue, characters, and camera work make the film, in Molly’s words, raw and honest.