The premise of Cyrus
could be one of those awful Will Ferrell comedies which tend
to be about a man-child acting cluelessly and inappropriately.
For that matter, I guess most of my life could be a terrible
Will Ferrell comedy. Cyrus is about a young man (Jonah
Hill) who still lives with his mother (Marisa Tomei) and tries
to destroy her love life so he can keep her to himself. It's
Oedipal shit. John C. Reilly is the interloper, a doughy film
editor with about as much confidence as a brace-faced puberty-stricken
Tomei has her own
problems. The primary one is the closeness between her and her
son. It's a smothering, creepy deal. He'll go in and use the
toilet while she's showering; they wrestle; and they talk about
her sex life. That last is the weirdest for me. I never ever
talk about sex so long as I think my parents are within three
miles. As far as they know, I have never had it, and that bottle
of Wesson under my bed during my teen years was for emergency,
late-night cooking. Similarly, I will continue to blindly assume
that I was immaculately conceived and birthed from my mother's
purse. It's easier for everyone that way.
As the son, Hill
is the sensitive kind. The fat kind, too. Mainly, though, he's
quiet and unsure. He loves to take pictures of nature and view
them while composing electronica. He has no friends and no life
beyond his small house and his mom. The only time he's fierce
is when battling Reilly for Tomei's attention.
his physical appearance pretty well: "Shrek in the forest."
He is troll-like, except that his face also looks like it's
about to collapse in on itself in a wave of furrows and creases.
He's also a damn good actor. In Cyrus, he's a wounded
man, divorced for seven years--not by choice--who still relies
heavily on his ex (Catherine Keener). It's sort of the way I
see myself without Mrs. Filthy: a pathetic, lonely, masturbating
man who cannot even fathom that a girl would like him unless
one or both of us has drank enough high-proof liquor to vomit
up stomach lining.
Once Tomei and Reilly
hook up and form an uncertain-but-hopeful romance between their
fucked-up lives, Hill methodically and sneakily tries to destroy
it. He steals Reilly's shoes one night. He threatens to move
out to make his mother choose him or Reilly. He gets drunk on
gin and tonics and attacks Reilly. That is what Cyrus
is about. Tomei can't imagine her twenty-one-year-old son would
do evil things, meanwhile while Reilly and Hill duke it out
just out of earshot.
That's a premise
for some hijinks and wacky comedy, just like Reilly and Ferrell's
mediocre Stepbrothers. Two grown men rolling around in
the grass, threatening to kill each other and sabotaging each
other while a hot chick looks the other way. It's also a lot
like Bluto and Popeye. Why Olive Oyl never said, "For Christ's
sake, both of these guys are violent motherfuckers," is a mystery
I think about every day.
What works very well
in Cyrus are Reilly and Tomei as people battered by shitty
lives and rejection. Reilly is almost always good, and he's
great here as a guy who can easily expect the worst. Tomei plays
a hot, aging chick who doesn't even know she's hot. That's the
best kind. She aims low in flirting with Reilly in the first
place and then worries that a schlub like him would lose interest.
Hill, too, is very good, but his role is also the movie's most
simplistic. He's the most one-dimensional, and also the one
given an easy redemption at its end.
The moviemakers are
the Duplass Brothers, Mark and Jay. Cyrus is their way
of moving up from independent mumblecore movies to one with
actual stars and a plots. They bring their natural style with
them, which means people don't say shit real people never say,
and everyone doesn't drive supernice cars or live in a designer's
wet dream home like in the hyper-artificial fantasy world usually
created by Hollywood. Instead, people drive Chevy Malibus and
old Subarus, live in crappy houses with ugly wallpaper and pause
a lot when they talk. It's supposed to feel real.
Mumblecore is navel-gazing.
The movies are deliberately made very small, almost like "found"
art in its vibe. The mumblecore shit doesn't force fake moments.
The result is there are often no moments at all. No revelations.
Just draggy scene after draggy scene leading nowhere because
to actually reveal something big feels too fake to the moviemakers.
The trick to making
a movie like this great is not to make it really real, but instead
to trick the audience into thinking it is while every moment
and every seemingly natural thing said is as loaded with profundity
as Chinese toothpaste is with poisons. That's where Cyrus
fails. Bad movies are too obvious in their fakeness. When done
right, a shitload happens and the audience believes it. Moviemakers
must have the courage to drag the audience with them. The Duplasses,
though, would rather go nowhere than risk being fake.
goes is somewhere between slapstick and serious. At moments,
it seems like it could lift off into some really funny shit.
That's especially true when Reilly and Hill are trying to take
the other down. But the Duplasses fall short of what could be
very funny. Similarly, there isn't nearly as much drama or intrigue
to the Oedipal stuff going on. It is brought up, it is exposed
and we are allowed to feel creepy. Rather than really take it
in a dark direction, though, the Duplasses just leave it hanging.
The result is that
Cyrus that isn't particularly funny, particularly creepy,
or particularly interesting. Which is a fucking shame considering
the great performances and the opportunities available. Three
to tell Filthy Something?