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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Cyrus (review)

The Ugly, Boring Truth

Behold mumblecore! It’s just like regular-movie-core, but with hipster cred that reaches into your snarky soul and pinches its butt affectionately with its less-than-Hollywood-beautiful actors and low-budget sensibilities and some improvisational tripping over its own shoelaces. Adorable! Indie! Real!

Except, at least in the case of Cyrus, it’s just more of the same old shit roughed up around the edges to disguise its utter tediousness and depressing conventionality. Brother filmmakers Jay and Mark Duplass gained some festival cred with films such as The Puffy Chair and Baghead… but suddenly they get a bit of a budget and some names you’ve heard of — Marisa Tomei! John C. Reilly! Jonah Hill! Catherine Keener! — and they reveal how dreary and pointless they can be.
But hey, it’s dreary pointlessness in aid of something that movies have been telling us forever: Men rule! Men are awesome, always! There is literally nothing a guy cannot do that will ruin him for the likes of the most bodacious babe ever. A man can be unsocialized, incapable of interacting with people on a human basis, even downright cruel, malicious, and self-centered, and he is nevertheless guaranteed love, sex, affection, and adoration from the female side of humanity.

Look: I adore John C. Reilly. I think Marisa Tomei is fantastic. I worship Catherine Keener as a goddess. I’m happy to see in this flick that Jonah Hill does indeed have some talent that just needs to be put to good use. But Cyrus ain’t it. This is a needlessly miserable movie about completely awful, completely boring people behaving in ways that, in real life, do not generally come with happy endings. Movie characters don’t have to be likeable, but they should be interesting — see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for an excellent example of a protagonist who is hard to like or even to warm up to, but who is nevertheless wildly intriguing. No one is interesting here. They’re barely explicable. Not that people like these don’t exist. But that if people like these are worthy of having their stories told, the Duplasses haven’t found the reason for that here.

There’s Reilly’s (Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant, 9) John, who is divorced and lonely and dejected… and certainly that’s an understandable place to be in — who hasn’t been lonely and dejected at least once in a while? But how John expresses his inner howls of wretchedness are the stuff of which loneliness and dejectedness is guaranteed, as demonstrated by an early scene in which John attends a party at the behest of Jamie (Keener: Where the Wild Things Are, The Soloist), his ex: He overshares with strangers. He butts into the conversations of random pretty girls young enough to be his daughters. He acts out in the same way that we talk about autistic children “acting out”: either he simply does not understand social boundaries or he does care to respond to those of others.

We put up with such behavior — at least in fictional settings, even if it’s harder in real life — when these characters bring something else to the table: artistic genius, an unusual perspective on the world, even such crassness as a shit-ton of money to spread around for the amusement of others. John offers nothing like this. And yet Molly (Tomei: War, Inc., Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead), also attending the party, finds him fascinating, for reasons only she can see. (Disclaimer: Reilly really is sort of a weird-lookin’ dude, and not a man most people would call conventionally or even unconventionally attractive. But I’ve met him, and there is definitely something magnetic about him. At least in part, it’s the talent and the brains that he clearly exudes, though he’s also more physically appealing than he typically appears onscreen, as if filmmakers go out of their way to make him hideous. But his character here does not evince anything like that. Here, he is ugly on the inside as well as on the outside.)

So John embarks on a tentative relationship with Molly. What was that I said about “less-than-Hollywood-beautiful actors”? That applies to the men only, here, naturally: Tomei is gorgeous, if supposedly, at 45, beyond her sell-by date for mainstream Hollywood films. (Ditto the 51-year-old Keener, whom we’re supposed to accept, in this film and others, as some sort of alternative to Hollywood’s beauty-facism, even though she’s obviously quite stunning. ) Molly is so “hot,” in fact, that John obviously finds it worth putting up with her deranged son, Cyrus (Hill: Get Him to the Greek, How to Train Your Dragon), who is even less socialized than John, in order to be with her. John continues to put up with both Molly and Cyrus when it becomes plain that the relationship between mother and son is, to say the least, somewhat bizarre and more than a bit creepy: Cyrus is 20-something years old, for pete’s sake, and Mom is still slipping into his bedroom at night to comfort his “night terrors.”

*shudder*

A reasonably adjusted person would run screaming from this scenario. John puts up with it, which makes him pathetic. It doesn’t make him likable or even merely interesting.

I suppose it’s meant to be entertainingly odd, the weird intimacy between mother and adult child — an adult child who, it must be said, is not just overly coddled but actively psychotic, particularly when it comes to threatening John, whom Cyrus sees as elbowing in on her special place in Mom’s life. But that’s not how I saw it. I found it unpleasant and head-shakingly pitiable. And not in a good way, either.


MPAA: rated R for language and some sexual material

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    It’s completely deserved kickings like this that keep me checking on this site daily. Well, that and all the other stuff. But god, it’s about time someone called out the Duplass brothers.

  • Taylor Sullivan

    Are you serious? You should be fired from your job, all your points are invalid and make no sense. What are you gonna do? Remove this comment cause I don’t agree with you?

  • Victor Plenty

    Congratulations, Taylor Sullivan! Your dreary and pointless comment focuses all your effort on a feeble attempt to attack the critic, without bothering to address even ONE specific point made in the review. So, you’ve not only failed to inflict any damage on your target, you’ve shown something about the caliber of mind attracted to this movie, which is not at all flattering.

  • I enjoyed the movie a bit more than you did, but thank you for pointing out how often movies depict “ordinary” (i.e. not particularly smart, attractive, remarkable, or pleasant) guys getting the babe they “deserve.” I’ve had the same observation, but never put it as well as you did.

    (To be honest, I had the same problem with “Stranger than Fiction,” which all my friends really liked. Me, I saw it as an exercise in wish-fulfillment for every bland, frustrated guy who’s crushing on a gorgeous, charismatic woman, and knows he could be a hero if he could just find a cute child to save from an oncoming bus.)

    Anyway, great site–Glad I found it!

  • Steve M

    Making the viewer squirm a little is the point of films like Cyrus and stringing together a bunch of adjectives to form an over the top rant (“…it’s just more of the same old shit roughed up around the edges to disguise its utter tediousness and depressing conventionality”) will make some readers wonder why the writer doth squirmeth so much. If the depictions defy credulity that’s one thing, but if it’s possible to watch this film and believe that, yes, there are probably people in the world like this then the next question is why that is so? Clearly the characters aren’t held up as heroes so…what are we meant to conclude? I don’t see that addressed here.

    Also, “I worship Catherine Keener is a goddess.” needs a bit of tweaking. I assume you meant I worship CK or CK is a goddess.

  • Also, “I worship Catherine Keener is a goddess.” needs a bit of tweaking. I assume you meant I worship CK or CK is a goddess.

    Or even, “I worship Catherine Keener as a goddess.” Or better yet, “I worship Catherine Keener as a goddess–even though I’m a mere atheist who is in not in the habit of worshiping anything–or anyone. But, my Goddess, haven’t you ever seen her in Being John Malkovich? How can any sane human who has seen that flick not worship her?”

    Yes, I know. Not helping…

    Making the viewer squirm a little is the point of films like Cyrus and stringing together a bunch of adjectives to form an over the top rant (“…it’s just more of the same old shit roughed up around the edges to disguise its utter tediousness and depressing conventionality”) will make some readers wonder why the writer doth squirmeth so much.

    Well, one does not always squirm in reaction to a movie for the same reason Caliban went into a rage upon seeing his reflection in the glass. Sometimes, one squirms because the story is told so badly and the dialogue delivered in such a dull, pedestrian manner that the filmmaker effectively sucks the life out of any spirit his or her story might have originally had.

    Besides, I always thought MaryAnn made a far better Miranda than Caliban…If not an Ariel…

  • MaryAnn

    Or even, “I worship Catherine Keener as a goddess.”

    Yes, that’s what it should be, and I’ve fixed it. Thanks for pointing out the typo.

    Making the viewer squirm a little is the point of films like Cyrus

    Squirminess for squirminess’s sake alone is no virtue.

    Clearly the characters aren’t held up as heroes so…what are we meant to conclude? I don’t see that addressed here.

    Really? I did note what conclusion I took from the film. I also noted that not all characters deserve to have their stories told. It matters not whether people like this really exist. There needs to be a reason for this story to exist, and I did not find one to my own satisfaction. Your mileage may vary.

  • Bob

    Maryann. Please don’t take this the wrong way. I sense your frustration and self-dissatisfaction. I get that you are trying to do something with your life, and that the tertiary nature of criticism lends itself to self-questioning, self-loathing, and ultimately defensiveness. But please, do yourself and everyone else a favor and shut your laptop, sharpen up the old number 2 pencil and get to writing that grand tome that has lurked within you since before your heart froze over. Stop poisoning the well with the jealousy that drips from your saggy snake-skin.
    I just saw Cyrus. It was great. The counterpoint and interplay of the characters was subtle, nuances and refreshing. The film spoke more to the delicate character studies of sixties and seventies French cinema than the Hollywoodness you claim to abhor. So please, gather up your flabs of snarkiness and go see Inception again… and give that steaming pile of nothing some more love. Um… think I’ve lost track again… no, wait, I remember: STOP REVIEWING MOVIES!!! Thanks.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Maryann. Please don’t take this the wrong way.

    Hoo boy, you’re about to say something stupid, aren’t you?

    Let’s see…

    …hmmm…

    Yep.

  • MaryAnn

    Is there a right way to take a comment such as Bob’s?

  • amanohyo

    I’m pretty sure that taking it seriously is the wrong way.

    Taking it the right way would be to point out his creepy preoccupation with skin. Settle down there Buffalo Bob.

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