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.”
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.