Movie Maniac

Stars make cringe-worthy ‘Cyrus’ engaging

Like its title character, “Cyrus” is an awkward, strange-funny thing. It certainly isn’t for everybody.

The film — which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year to raves — is both a dark comedy and a quirky relationship drama. It wants to make you feel as uncomfortable as its protagonist, and there is plenty to be uncomfortable about.

The story follows John (John C. Reilly), a sad-sack freelance editor who has been divorced from his wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener), for seven years. But when she tells him she’s getting married, he lets her know the news stings.

They are remarkably good friends, though, and she encourages him to accompany her and her fiance to a party to meet women. He gets tipsy at the party and meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), who he thinks is clearly out of his league.

“Why are you talking to me?” he asks. “I’m like Shrek and you’re the princess.”

But romance blossoms. And since this is the first fling — or human contact — John has had since his divorce, he is at first needy and clingy. When Molly doesn’t spend the night, he secretly follows her home and pokes around her house the next morning.

That’s when Molly’s son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), catches him snooping and invites him in.

From there, John discovers that Cyrus has some serious Oedipal issues, and that Molly and Cyrus have an unconventional relationship, to say the least (he enters the bathroom while his mom is taking a shower, for instance).

It becomes clear that John is entering closely guarded territory, and that Cyrus does not welcome him. Soon, Cyrus and John are vying for Molly’s affection, and things get understandably messy.

The situations that writer/directors Jay and Mark Duplass create are sometimes very funny, but not in the wacky way that some viewers might have expected. The directors and cast play it straight, and that creates an oddly flat tone.

It feels every bit like a Duplass brothers film, though. As heroes of the underground low-budget “mumblecore” movement, “Cyrus” is their first film with Hollywood stars.

It’s reminiscent of their breakout hit, “The Puffy Chair,” which featured typical mumblecore traits: hand-held camera, minimal lighting, talky characters, lackadaisical story, low-incident plot. It was DIY filmmaking at its most independent.

“Cyrus” is an evolution of that, though it takes a bold step into the mainstream.

The stars make it engaging, with top-notch performances that ignite the simple story.

Reilly gets to shine in a meaty leading role, and Tomei is ravishing. She’s perfect at showing flourishes of confusion, and her Molly is a mother who unequivocally loves her child but comes to realize that maybe their relationship isn’t so healthy.

Hill is a dastardly delight. His Cyrus sparkles with a friendly facade and deeper, dark intentions.

At its core, “Cyrus” is really a character-driven study of a weird family dynamic — heavy on the weird. You’ll laugh at times, but you’ll also cringe.

REVIEW

“Cyrus”

**½

Rating: R (language and some sexual material)

Starring: John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill

Written and directed by: Jay and Mark Duplass

Showing at: Warren Theatre (east)

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