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"A humorous experiment in social discomfort."
"The acting is improvised and nuanced in such a way that only through the exploration of character do they come to some sort of resolution."
"Retains its indie nature and style, but does so with more clarity and focus."


XXX: Alexis Lynn
Monkey: Mark Sells
Buggybear: Seven
Review September 2010

Transitioning from a shoestring budget to a bigger checkbook and a cast of Oscar nominees and stars, directors Mark and Jay Duplass go somewhat mainstream with Cyrus, a story about a divorcee named John who struggles with single life. But after a chance encounter at a party with a beautiful woman named Molly, things appear to be on the upswing. Until, that is, he meets Molly's twenty-one year old son, Cyrus, whose awkward relationship with his mother puts them in a territorial battle of wits. Maintaining an indie look and feel, Cyrus keeps things simple. It's well constructed and honest, allowing its characters a touch of improvisational freedom. The result, of which, is a humorous experiment in social discomfort.

John's life is a mess. He's middle-aged, lonely, divorced, and has all but given up on relationships. When his ex-wife relays the news that she is remarrying, John begrudgingly attends a party with her and her fianc? to try and meet single women. After many unsuccessful attempts, he is intercepted by Molly, a quick witted, sexy woman with whom he shares an instant attraction. The two enjoy many moments together; however, John is puzzled as to why she is so reluctant to invite him over to her house. So, one morning, he decides to follow her home.

At Molly's house, John begins to snoop around outside looking for some sort of clue. Almost immediately, he is greeted by a personable, 21 year old named Cyrus. As it turns out, Cyrus is the other man in Molly's life - her son and best friend. Cyrus lives with Molly, but is overprotective, so much so, that he is unwilling to share her with anyone. This unfortunate detail poses a serious problem for John, who winds up in a complicated battle for Molly's affection amidst the intentional and unintentional efforts of Cyrus to sabotage.

Filmmakers Mark and Jay Duplass have become synonymous with the Mumblecore movement, a recent trend in independent filmmaking that features ultra low budgets, improvisational scripts, hand held cameras, and non-professional actors. Mumblecore films traditionally focus on personal relationships and almost inarticulate, mundane dialogue amongst twentysomethings, with very little action and plot. For instance, the Duplass Brothers' film Baghead features a group of young actors exploring their interpersonal relationships and writing a screenplay about a guy with a bag over his head. Or in The Puffy Chair, a young man tests his relationship with his girlfriend on a road trip to pick up a chair he bought on eBay.

Fortunately, Cyrus is not a mumblecore film. For starters, Cyrus was budgeted for $7 million, which is roughly $6.9 million more than anything the Duplass Brothers have worked with before. The added breathing room helped bring in Academy Award talents, John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei, as well as rising star, Jonah Hill. Add to that a more polished look from cinematographer Jas Shelton, a musical score from Michael Andrews, and a tighter, more sophisticated script and you have an extension of mumblecore, one that is less mumble and more core. A film that retains its indie nature and style, but does so with more clarity and focus.

At the heart of Cyrus is the allusion to Oedipus Rex, the mythical King of Thebes who fulfilled an oracle's prophecy to kill his father and marry his mother. Individuals like Cyrus, who suffer from the Oedipus complex, wish to possess the parent of the opposite sex while completely eliminating the other. Rather than heading down the dark Sophocles path, the film experiments with the behavioral effects of such a condition in a modern relationship. And it does so without making fun of its characters. Instead, it allows them to have honest reactions with comedic effect. The only drawback is the limitation placed on the characters' extended stories. Specifically, focusing on the three characters in the here and now instead of a wider circle of friends and family to shed more light on the present.

The acting in the film is impeccable. In fact, very few actors today could pull off the role of John - a role that requires a sluggish exterior and tenderness underneath. When pushed to the brink, John's intentions remain natural and forthright. He wants to be with Molly and will do whatever he can to make that happen, even if it means playing mind games with Cyrus behind her back.

Opposite John C. Reilly is the always endearing, Marisa Tomei. Tomei's Molly is down to earth, but utterly oblivious to her son's attachment. Initially, one may wonder how someone as attractive as Molly could fall for John. But that's where the charisma of the actors pays off, allowing audiences to see beyond appearances and flaws and into the depths of their personalities. Even Cyrus himself, played dead on by Jonah Hill, uses infant like qualities to disguise inappropriate behavior. And still, reveals a lot of heart.

While Cyrus is not a typical mumblecore movie, it does follow the same patterns in concept and execution. It's a simplistic story. A man meets the woman of his dreams only to battle her son for her affection. And the acting is improvised and nuanced in such a way that only through the exploration of character do they come to some sort of resolution. With solid and engaging performances by Reilly, Tomei, and Hill, the film stays on course, carefully examining the motives and behaviors of its characters' lives. In doing so, it concurs with Oedipus: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

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