With Cyrus, the transition of brothers Jay and Mark Duplass from their Austin, Texas, filmmaking roots into full-blown Hollywood filmmakers is complete - even though the new comedy they wrote and directed, Cyrus, will not be mistaken for any studio-generated yukfest. The addition in their work of an Oscar-tier cast raises the Duplasses' off-kilter material to a new high.
As with the brothers' previous features, The Puffy Chair and Baghead, they manage in Cyrus to spin an appealing yarn from thin narrative threads. The result is less the point than the process of getting there (which may help explain why the movie's ending is so unsatisfying).
At the heart of Cyrus is a story about psychological incest in which a 21-year-old man-boy vies with an appropriate suitor for his mother's affections. The tone of the film is more comic than icky, a quality due in large measure to the talent of the actors rather than the skills of the co-writers/directors. Jonah Hill plays the mama's boy, Cyrus, whose unnaturally possessive attachment to his mother, Molly (Marisa Tomei), poses an impediment for John (John C. Reilly), a lonely guy who thinks he may have finally found true love with Molly. She, as we gradually discover, deserves much of the credit for shaping Cyrus' pathology.
The story is presented primarily as a duel between Cyrus and John. Molly remains underwritten throughout; the character provides no insight into how things evolved to such a sorry state, and the filmmakers never even tell us how she supports herself and her son. Wasting Tomei should be considered a serious crime against cinema.
Hill and Reilly are a delightful match, however, coyly deflecting each other's blows in their secret game of one-upmanship. The Duplasses' visual style puts the emphasis on the characters' faces, moving the camera from head to head so that the film almost becomes an accumulation of reaction shots. The effect suits the film, as its mind games are built on a series of thrusts and parries, but the technique gets old rather quickly.
Still, Cyrus is very funny, and Catherine Keener's supporting work as John's ex is also amusing. A pat conclusion nevertheless undermines the restive narrative that precedes it.