Movies: Cyrus ****
(15A, GENERAL RELEASE)
Some American critics have reacted angrily to this low-budget US film, and so may punters who see John C Reilly and Jonah Hill on the poster and go along to it expecting one of those gross-out comedies for which both actors are famous. For Cyrus is nothing of the kind, and is instead an uneasy blend of humour and downbeat indie social drama.
Clearly this has not worked for some, but I liked its tone and compassionate approach to comedy, and there are three fine and surprisingly subtle performances at its core.
Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass, the film stars Reilly as John, a middle-aged man who lives in mild squalor and has never gotten over the failure of his marriage. Jamie (Catherine Keener) left him seven years before for another man she's about to marry, but is still worried about John and regularly checks up on him. When Jamie brings him to a party, John strikes out with a number of women before meeting an attractive woman called Molly (Marisa Tomei) who seems charmed by his awkward manner.
To John's delight, they sleep together and begin a relationship, but he can't help wondering why she never stays the night and has not invited him to her house. When he follows her home one day, he finds out why: Molly has a 22-year-old son called Cyrus (Hill) and their relationship is a disturbingly close one. Molly dotes on Cyrus, who has become dependent on her and fakes illnesses in order to monopolise her attention. And when John moves in with Molly, Cyrus is about as pleased as you might expect.
In the film's funniest scenes, John and Cyrus go to war while pretending to the clueless Molly that they're getting on like a house on fire.
Cyrus gets beyond the merely comic because it never allows its characters to descend to one-note clowning. There are three points of view at work here: Molly coddles Cyrus, John is terrified of getting hurt again, and Cyrus is terrified that he's going to be shut out if his mother remarries. The drama this encourages plays out at a stately, tranquil pace, with Tomei the solid, emotional centre of the film while Reilly and Hill vie grimly for her attention, both actors moving effortlessly between pathos and buffoonery.