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Movie Review: Cyrus

June 25, 2010

Cyrus – A Fox Searchlight Pictures’ Release

Release Date: June 25th

Rated 14A for coarse language

Running time: 90 minutes

Jay Duplass (dir.)

Mark Duplass (dir.)

Jay Duplass (writer)

Mark Duplass (writer)

Michael Andrews (music)

John C. Reilly as John

Jonah Hill as Cyrus

Marisa Tomei as Molly

Catherine Keener as Jamie

Our reviews below:


Cyrus Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

People’s initial feelings for the film Cyrus will likely be mixed, feeling that the film walks a fine line between funny and creepy.  And that is true.  These are the feelings I had throughout the first part of the film.  But there is a certain sweetness to its strangeness that makes it always interesting, and never obnoxious or cloying.  And once we find out more about the characters, it’s not really creepy either.  As it reached it’s conclusion, I found myself moved by these characters’ journey, in a way that I could have only hoped to be.

Cyrus is the latest film from sibling-directors Jay and Mark Duplass.  Their first feature was a quirky road-trip movie, The Puffy Chair (2006), that looked at romantic relationships.  Their second feature, Baghead (2008), was an alt-horror film.  Their latest, Cyrus, is a love triangle with a twist.

John (John C. Reily) has been divorced for 7 years, but has never found a new partner, and still keeps in touch with his ex-wife.  When he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) at a party, what starts as a one-night-stand, develops into a complicated triangle between John, Molly and Molly’s young adult son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill).  Cyrus, though intellectually mature, is emotionally immature, and shares a rather juvenile relationship with his mom.

What Cyrus doesn’t understand, and perhaps Molly doesn’t quite get either, is the difference between having a close relationship with someone, and overstepping boundaries and not giving your companion enough space to breath.  Some will see Molly holding back Cyrus, but in some ways, Cyrus is the one holding her back.  The relationship between Cyrus and his mom is a little unsettling, like when he enters the bathroom while she’s showering, or when they wrestle in the park, but there is also a genuine innocence about it.

Although the characters aren’t always likable, and their personalities are often confusing, it takes an indirect route in introducing a universal theme.  It’s completely believable, and though there are stretches that would feel mundane in the wrong hands, the Duplass brothers’ handle these scenes with an expert skill that makes every moment interesting.

When I saw the movie a few weeks back, there was uncontrollable laughter from certain parts of the audience.  There are many funny moments in Cyrus, but not the kind of laugh-out-loud hilarity that we have come to expect from Jonah Hill.  We more laugh to break the awkward silence, than we are laughing at the misfortune of the characters.  Hill gives his best performance yet, showing a vulnerable side that has only been hinted at in his other work.

My only real complaint about this otherwise solid picture, is the stylistic choice to film every thing through a constantly shifting lens, with the digital zoom continuously being pushed.  But camera work aside, hopefully people will give Cyrus a chance.  I think the key to enjoying it is to go in with a clean-slate, and just accept the paths these characters take.  And perhaps come prepared if shaky-cam usually gets to you.  ___________________________________________________________________________

Cyrus Review by Erin V.

***1/4 (out of 4)

This is an emotional triangle – between a man, a woman, and her adult (yet dependent) son.  When Molly (Marisa Tomei) meets John (John C. Riley) at a party, she ends up staying most of the night with him, and after meeting a few more times, he finally realizes (after stopping by her house as a surprise) that she has a young adult son – Cyrus (Jonah Hill).  When John moves in with the two of them, Cyrus is at odds with him, and Molly is unsure which side to take.  The performances are all good here – although especially Jonah Hill’s, as we see a kind of different more dramatic side of his acting abilities.

It’s an interesting film, and manages to tell its story without delving into the realm of creepy.  At first, you’re not quite sure, but as it goes along, it becomes more a story of misunderstanding, over-dependancy, and moving out of a comfort-zone.

One thing I do find a pretty major complaint about this film, along with the shaky-cam, is the over-use of digital zoom on the camera.  When it came up in the Q & A after the screening, the Duplass brothers explained that it was to capture the little emotions on the actors’ faces.  Because they were shooting documentary style, with the actors free to riff/improvise on the script, they were holding the cameras in order to follow what was happening.  I get that that accounts for the shaky-cam, but still, I don’t consider this much of an argument to use digital zoom.  I find that what you gain by seeing a certain expression close up on an actors face is lost by the distraction of the unnaturally smooth digital zoom.  (Our eyes don’t actually track in that smooth a way, which is what makes the zoom so jarring.)  When I want a zoom on a video to focus on a certain part, I opt for doing it in post.

Still, with all that said, it’s still a good film, and I’d say if you’re into indie film, or like the Duplass’ previous works, this is one that you’ll want to try to catch.


Cyrus Review By Nicole

***1/2 (out of 4)

Cyrus is a low key comedy-drama about an unusual love triangle.  John (John C. Reily) is a recently divorced man.  While at a party, he meets up with Molly (Marisa Tomei), a divorced woman who has a unique situation at home.  Her 21 year old son, Cyrus (brilliantly played by Jonah Hill), is an emotionally fragile individual, who suffers from panic attacks, and hasn’t moved past the Oedipal phase.  John, recognizing that the situation is odd, invites his ex-wife to check out the duo.  She senses that, while the relationship between Cyrus and Molly is unusual, the two are still nice people.  However, the mother and “child” relationship between Cyrus and Molly conflicts with the romantic relationship between Molly and John.  Can John and Cyrus make peace with each other?

I found Cyrus to be a really interesting psychological drama.  What could have been a creepy film, was instead a story about a man-child, who is vulnerable and still needs his mother.  What is strange is that neither Cyrus or Molly know boundaries, though their relationship is never sexual.  The moral of the film is that, at a certain point, everyone must grow up.  For some, it just takes a little longer than others.


Cyrus Review By Maureen

***1/4 (out of 4)

Every relationship has its own unique rules and dynamics.  Some are simple, some are complex.  Cyrus is the story of a complicated young man, 21-year old Cyrus (Jonah Hill) whose close bond with his single mother Molly (Marisa Tomei) is both unsettling and touching.  When Molly meets and falls for a man named John (John C. Reily), Cyrus feels threatened and resorts to a host of manipulative behaviours to try and end the relationship between Molly and John.

While the storyline could have taken the film in a creepy or dark direction, Cyrus is actually very watchable with believable, well-developed characters.  By the end of the movie each of their actions made sense and I really cared for them.

Credit has to go to the directors and the actors for bringing their characters to life.  The decision by directors Mark and Jay Duplass to allow the actors to improvise much of the script really allowed the subtle nuances of the emotional scenes to shine through.  These are all very talented actors and the directors were wise to trust the actors instincts.  Jonah Hill is especially brilliant as the emotionally immature Cyrus.  Having seen him in so many other comedic roles this was a nice surprise.

I really liked this movie.  Cyrus provides an interesting look at family dynamics without being melodramatic or contrived.  The superb, low-key acting is what makes it so good.  I could have done without some of the shaky-cam scenes however.  But, as the directors explained at a recent Q&A, the shaky-cam was a result of having hand-held cameras on each of the actors as they improvised.  Since their technique allowed them to capture such good performances, they are forgiven.


Cyrus Review By Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

John (John C. Reilly) is lonely seven years after his marriage breakup.  His ex-wife and friend (Catherine Keener) invites him to a party to meet new people, where he and Molly (Marisa Tomei) meet and then spend the night together at his place.  What would be a satisfying relationship is soon threatened by Molly’s son Cyrus (Jonah Hill).  A single mother since his birth, Molly homeschooled Cyrus, now 22 and an aspiring electronic composer. Though intellectually bright and articulate, Cyrus is emotionally immature, feeling his attachment to his mother threatened by the new man in her life, and he attempts to sabotage their relationship.

This story could be banal at best or creepy at worst.  What makes it engaging is the excellent cast and documentary feel of the film.  Far from the slick characters and fast pace we get from most American films, the general mood here is awkwardness and hesitation giving the vulnerable characters real time to figure out what to say and do in difficult situations. Since the film was limited in sets and cast, it could be filmed in chronological sequence, allowing the actors to improvise on the script as their characters developed.  Using several hand-held cameras covering all the actors ensured that the best moments would always be captured, even if there were some shaky moments.  The result is a fine intimate character study that comes to a realistic conclusion.


Consensus: Featuring Jonah Hill’s best performance to date, Cyrus is an interesting emotional triangle, that works so well because it never delves into full creepiness, and treats its subjects with sincerity.  Despite the sometimes distracting shaky camera work, this is a fascinating character study from directors Jay and Mark Duplass. ***1/2 (Out of 4)

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