When we first meet John - the main character in a movie named after a secondary, less interesting character - he is walked in on while nakedly whacking away to his Macbook. It's a pretty appropriate introduction for such a helpless, desperate character. And an even better way to acknowledge the fearlessness of the man playing him.
John (John C. Reilly) lives alone in his sloppy L.A. apartment, works part time as a film editor, and has no friends, except Jamie (Catherine Keener), his divorced wife of seven years. After Jamie announces she's getting remarried, she tells John she is determine to get him back on the playing field. So, because this is a movie, John conveniently meets the woman of his dreams at the first party he's been to in nearly a decade.
Molly (Marisa Tomei) is funny, attractive and most importantly, accepting of John's faults, of which there are plenty. The two hit it off and, after a set of unusually stalker-ish circumstances, John comes to meet Molly's grown, weirdo son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), a kid with virtually no communication skills and a serious Oedipus complex.
You've seen this before: the son will get jealous of the new man taking up all of mommy's time. He'll try to sabotage the relationship by lying, stealing, fighting and manipulating, before finally getting his way. Or not.
And that's the fun of Cyrus; it's conventional storyline is smartened up via a fresh, witty script and a trio of pitch-perfect actors.
John C. Reilly has made a career of brilliantly playing the goofy, lost manchild (Boogie Nights, Magnolia) and it's nice to see that he's finally making his way up to leading man status. I initially found it unconvincing that John could bed Molly so quickly, but their romance is not only believable, it provides the film its best moments.
Marisa Tomei, who gets better looking with each passing year, has seriously stepped up her game in recent years. She should've won her second Oscar for The Wrestler two years ago, but if her heartfelt performance in Cyrus is any indication that she'll keep her hotstreak alive, I'm sure she'll be back in the Academy audience soon enough.
Catherine Keener, who gets better looking with each passing year, already proved this year that she is an emotional force to be reckoned with (in Please Give). Her hopeless pity over John in this film is so tender it will make your heart melt.
If there are faults with Cyrus, they are few and far between. I wish directors Jay and Mark Duplass would chill out with their camera work. Their zoom in zoom out, focus in focus out urgency gives the film a feel of an over-directed music video. Likewise, while I appreciate Jonah Hill's indie effort to tone his antics down a notch, he's no match for the other players in this film.
It's funny, I recently read an interview with fashion designer Tom Ford, whose directorial debut A Single Man came out on DVD last week (go rent it). In the interview he said that Brad Pitt was one of his favorite actors because he actually looks less perfect now. Pitt's face is now more seasoned. With each wrinkle of imperfection, he actually looks like he's lived. The same, I believe, goes for the three lead actors in Cyrus. Maybe that's why contemporary romantic comedies don't do it for me. I find it silly watching 17-year-olds tirelessly complain because their precious boyfriends dumped them. Most young actors (like Jonah Hill) can't express real anguish with a single glance. Leave that to the pros, who make Cyrus a film worth watching. B+