Friday, August 20, 2010

A Little Too Early, a Little Too Late

Once again, you can count on me to give you great movie reviews at an utterly useless time. I'm guessing Cyrus isn't in many theaters anymore, and it's for sure not out on DVD yet. But Joe and I saw it a few weeks ago, and I've been wanting to weigh in on it. So now I'm finally getting around to it, and if you've seen it you can agree or disagree. If you haven't seen it, you can keep my thoughts in mind later when it does come to DVD.

First of all, I usually like John C. Reilly, and this film is no exception. He plays such a variety of characters with ease, and has sidestepped the whole transition from dramatic to comedic actor (and back again...and again) by playing both types for years. Honestly, I never knew him by name until the Talledega Nights/Walk Hard era, but I recognized him from past work such as Chicago and Never Been Kissed (which I have seen an embarrassing number of times, and I love). Pulling up his IMDB page verifies that he has been working steadily since the late eighties, and in surprising number of high-caliber stuff such as Gangs of New York and What's Eating Gilbert Grape (which, among others, I now feel compelled to go back and watch again in search of him). I recently saw Magnolia for the first time, and his earnest, lonely, slightly desperate performance blew me away. He is in the same character vein at the opening of Cyrus, in which he plays John, a divorced, deadbeat guy who has pretty much given up on...everything. Within the first half-hour he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), and their ensuing courtship is one of the most lovely I have ever seen. It is almost heartbreaking in it's tentative sincerity, reflective of the hesitance and joy we feel when first falling in love and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with someone new, especially in light of past failures. I found myself feeling deeply for the two characters, and drawn in by their love story much more effectively than by most so-called "romances" put out in Hollywood.

The film even manages to wink at itself for pairing someone as lovely as Tomei with Reilly by making John (who is slightly drunk) wonder aloud to Molly why she is interested in him, since he "look(s) like Shrek." Once we, as an audience, see the the filmmakers acknowledge the unlikelihood of the pairing, it becomes easier to accept (or at least overlook). 

From there, complications inevitably arise. Soon the film's namesake, Cyrus, enters the picture. Jonah Hill nicely interprets the role of Molly's son with a combination of innocence and sinister possessiveness. His character's presence pulls the rest of the movie to the brink of becoming a screwball comedy, but restrains itself. In almost every scene between John and Cyrus, I felt that at any moment the movie was going to turn to Step Brothers-esque humor. All it really would have taken was an ironic soundtrack and some flat-out juvenille sparring between the two characters for it to transition seamlessly from funny drama to a really funny comedy. But it never quite goes there, and instead achieves an unflinchingly quiet tension that adds complexity and depth to an otherwise age-old and honestly very predictable storyline. In this movie, as with many of my favorites, it's good because it's well-executed, not necessarily because it's unique. The writing, acting, and direction dare to walk a precipice between comedy and drama so effectively, it feels utterly new. It would have been so easy to make Cyrus into a pure drama or a full-on comedy, and the outcome of either would  have, in all likelihood, been just as good. But points to Cyrus for daring to sit a little uncomfortably between genres, and yet still making me walk away feeling good.

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