“Cyrus” A Study in Sighs, Smiles and Sneers

by Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

I hated Sid, and probably still do, even though it’s been decades since he dated and thereby threatened to steal my big sister. My excuse is that I was all of seven years old. Though still living at home, the title character in “Cyrus” is all grown up when John C. Reilly’s suitor, John, wins his mother Molly’s attentions.

Of course, while I was just able to issue a tantrum, at twenty-two Cyrus is much more subtle and canny. Too bad, too, because it’s been years since either lonely, divorced John or sweet, single Molly (Marisa Tomei) has had a romantic fling. What’s more, the fine thespic chemistry these players achieve makes their love affair seem truly bashert.


The romantically winsome creation of filmmaker-auteurs Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass, Molly and John’s saga is sadly much more common than is usually proffered in fiction, probably because it hits too close to home. Hardly a family is without its version of the love that might have been had it not been for an intervention, subliminal or blatant.

We only suspect Cyrus’s motivations at first. Ungainly yet possessing a curiously contradicting polish, he is devilishly unfolded by Jonah Hill, on loan from his filmic mainstay, the raunchy comedy. An inspired bit of rediscovery casting, it might win the young man a nomination, as well as more serious consideration from directors.

It all begins, oddly enough, at a party John attends through his ex-wife’s exhortation. An emoter of the first magnitude, heart draped on his sleeve, he is honest practically to a fault. It is at once what estranged him from his annoyed but nonetheless guilt-ridden spouse and what Molly finds attractive. And therein lies the tale’s quixotic beauty.

Wonderfully humorous, real-life situations that arise as Molly and John try to navigate through some allegedly unrelated issues Cyrus is trying to address balance the more severe look at relationships. At the heart of it there is a deliberation: Can John be both lucky in love and honest?

It’s not mulled in quite the ingenious way that Ingmar Bergman pondered such philosophical conundrums, but it does bring his style to mind. And that also helps justify the sometimes slow, art house look and feel of “Cyrus.” Indeed, life is full of pregnant pauses, long glancing looks and endless, confounding impasses.

Which, after all, is why most American filmgoers prefer mainstream movies. And, if you’ve taken an objective look at us of late, we apparently like our big screen amusement accompanied by nachos, drenched with lots of cheese, if you please. But don’t worry. The brothers Duplass aren’t hellbent on changing our tastes, either in food or film.

Good thing, too. Like the family mutt accustomed to his dish being in a certain place in the kitchen, there is comfort in the repetitive formula of the Saturday night flick at the Cineplex. But the smart pooch knows there is also the adventure of going to someone else’s abode, where resides a strange dog, replete with the allure of exotic new scents.

It only follows that if Fido can learn from this example of canine mind expansion, so, too, can his master. A mostly amiable roll in the wonder of human issues, with a dramatically distressing segue occasionally inserted for good measure, “Cyrus” is a reminder of those things truly important to us. Like love, friendship and self fulfillment.

Seeking those commodities with seriocomic insight, Molly and John provide a whimsically genuine look at the courting process, both before and after Cyrus lowers his ominous cloud. If you’ve been fortunate enough to know the endless imagined possibilities that accompany new love, you’ll find it nostalgically illustrated here.

Kudos to Mr. Reilly, who continues to impress with his wide range of character embodiment. From the bullying sheriff in “Gangs of New York “ (2002) to his wackily absurd portrayal in “Step Brothers” (2008), to this sensitive depiction worthy of a scene study class, he is convincing. The actor’s borderline homeliness adds to the credibility.

Blithely matching his validity, Miss Tomei exudes a defining vulnerability to go with the optimistic smile it sometimes belies. She plays her age, wrinkles added, highlighted or otherwise. Eyes bright despite the weathered past we infer, she sees the good in everything. It won’t be easy informing the nice lady that her son is a charlatan.

But then again, the lad has a story, too. And Sid probably wasn’t that bad a guy, either, though I’d certainly cry bloody murder again…even if it did have the neighbors worried that I was being tortured. Thus it occurs to add restraint and tolerance to all the aforementioned, life-affirming values “Cyrus” so astutely contemplates.

“Cyrus,” rated R, is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release directed by Jay Duplass and Mark Duplass and stars Marisa Tomei, John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill. Running time: 92 minutes

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