Film Review with Robert Mann – Cyrus

Film Review with Robert Mann - Cyrus

Cyrus ***

One of this year’s acquisitions from the Sundance Film Festival by Fox Searchlight Pictures, Cyrus (a film which surprisingly carries the producing credits of Ridley and Tony Scott) has failed to break out in the way that some other films picked up for distribution from the prestigious festival have in recent years (films such as Slumdog Millionaire and (500) Days of Summer come to mind in this regard) but has nonetheless proven to be a minor success on limited release at the US box office and a solid critical performer. Coming from writing/directing team Jay and Mark Duplass – for whom this is their breakout film, their past films being under the radar indies starring actors no one is likely to have heard of – Cyrus has received largely positive reviews to date. Is this critic going to jump on the bandwagon? Of course not. In the past I have made no secret of the fact that I am not exactly a fan of Jonah Hill. And, as a result, I understandably went in to see Cyrus with a lack of anticipation (of the good kind at least).

John (John C. Reilly) has been unlucky in love. He’s been single for seven years and his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) is about to be remarried. With his social life at an all-time low, John is persuaded to attend a party, but the evening looks as though it’s heading for disaster when John gets drunk and makes a show of himself. So it’s to everyone’s surprise – including John’s – when he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), a beautiful and gregarious woman with whom he has amazing chemistry. However, John soon discovers that Molly has another man in her life – her 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Cyrus and Molly have an unusual relationship and it quickly becomes clear he’s not willing to share his mum with anyone, least of all John…

Cyrus is a film that shows much promise and a clear degree of talent on the part of writing and directing duo Jay and Mark Duplass yet, at the same time, fails to live up to its potential and demonstrates a distinct lack of ambition on the part of the filmmakers. What they have created is a comedy drama that, thanks to solid writing and dialogue, convincing depictions of realistic and believable characters in honest situations, camera work that is low-tech, handheld, shaky and right in the faces of the actors, and a lack of musical scoring for much of the duration, looks, sounds and feels raw, real and personal. This is a film that lacks all the bells and whistles that tend to come with Hollywood movies, something that wouldn’t be a problem (or may even be a strength) were the substance here truly excellent, but unfortunately this slow paced film never engages as well as it should. There are two key reasons why this is case. Firstly, the storyline fails to be truly engrossing. Secondly, considering that this is supposed to be a black comedy, the filmmakers seem strangely afraid to go anywhere truly dark with the humour and the themes explored. It’s almost as if they got half way towards making a great movie then just gave up, instead settling to make an average one. The humour here, as with many comedies, will very much be a matter of personal taste, mostly being subtle and observational rather than in your face and silly, and while some will find the film hilarious, others may be bored by it all. It is as a drama, rather than as a comedy, that the film really works best. Fortunately, the characters are mostly well realised, something that is crucial given that this film is driven almost entirely by the characters. John C. Reilly is raw, sympathetic, likable and amusing as John and he shares a very believable chemistry with Marisa Tomei, who herself is a quirky, likable and well rounded romantic interest. Tomei also shares a strangely believable odd mother-son dynamic with Jonah Hill, something that makes their characters’ unusual relationship very plausible. Hill himself once again delivers a performance that fails to seem distinctly different from any of the other roles he has played to date but here his casting kind of works, with him portraying just enough emotion for us to see Cyrus as a somewhat troubled young man who just wants acceptance as opposed to a psychopathic individual whose possessiveness over his mother is dangerously out of control. These performances are what really keep the film afloat as, while Jay and Mark Duplass do show some talent, it is clear that they are not fully tapping into it here. Only skimming the surface rather than digging deeper, they fail to go far enough with the concept and while the film really is “raw and honest” it isn’t engaging or entertaining enough to fully satisfy. So, Cyrus is a film that is not really deserving of many of the stellar reviews that have preceded it but it isn’t worth any kind of condemnation either.



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Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.


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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.

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