Directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass
Starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill
Rated R for language and some sexual material
Back when I had a Netflix account, I went on an indie movie-watching spree, and that’s where I encountered the concept behind “actor’s workshop” films for the first time.
For the people who aren’t acting or film geeks, I’ll explain. An actor’s workshop film is one where a bunch of actor who are taking classes together take what they’ve learned and make a movie out of it. The coolest thing, though, is that some of the best actors are always taking classes and workshops to hone their craft even further. Another thing I learned about was the mumblecore movement, wherein production is very low-budget, conversations are improvised, and the focus is on characterization over complicated plots.
Multi-hyphenate brothers Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, who helped form the latter, seem to have taken the best of what’s cool about an actor’s workshop film, given it a mumblecore feel, and turned it loose into the world.
The plot to Cyrus is pretty simple. John C. Reilly stars as John, a divorcé who never really got out of the depressive funk that drove his now-ex-wife (Catherine Keener) away seven years ago. Strangely enough, they’re still friends—and may possibly also work together—and after she tells him that she’s getting married again, she tries to get him out of his rut by forcing him to go to a party. There he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) who sees something charming in his sad sack and “drunk on Red Bull and vodka” exterior and follows him back to his place.
However, she doesn’t stick around in the morning, but instead leaves him a note. Intrigued but not scared off, John invites her over for a proper first date which is as romantic as it is charming… only to catch her sneaking out of his room at night. Her vague explanation doesn’t satisfy him, so John follows her back to her house where he meets the source of her secrecy: her antagonistic live-at-home 21-year old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill).
The meat of the story is the interplay between John and Cyrus as the former starts to really suspect there’s something wrong with the latter and his acceptance of the new man in his mother’s life. Any other director or writer would have turned this premise into a horror film (a mirror universe The Stepfather, if you will) or a gigantically broad comedy (Problem Child) but writer/director/producers Jay and Mark Duplass have kept to their ‘core roots by walking that knife’s edge between the extremes.
The audience I was with was completely engaged with this movie and its dark humor, especially during the parts where you’re not really sure if the relationship between Molly and Cyrus is well-meant and completely platonic. In contrast to something lead Geeking Out About movie reviewer Lyssa Spero would say to me after the movie, I think that the choices Reilly and Hill make in their depictions of their characters are spot-on and a great service to the lines as they were conceived and improvised. At the same time, Hill stands up to and stands on his own against the veteran Reilly, and th choices he makes in the confrontational scenes between the two of them are pretty amazing.
I’ll agree with other critics who after this film’s premiere at this year’s Sundance thought that while this was a great film, Marisa Tomei wasn’t given all that much to do. The focus here is between John and Cyrus and to add a little more dimension into Molly’s character would have made this a much longer movie.
I’ll also say that though I do appreciate the lack of steadicam to emphasize the fact that this was a largely improvised film, sometimes it bordered on a parody of the exercise. I will say that I did appreciate the oddly cut romantic monologues, even if Lyssa didn’t.
For being the Duplass brothers’ first mainstream film, this is quite possibly the best way one could have gone about doing it, and much kudos are due their way.
After having opened the BAM CinemaFest on June 9, Cyrus goes into wide release on June 18 in the U.S., September 17 in the U.K., and September 23 in Germany; it must not have been farcical enough for the French.