Any moviegoers who have seen the Duplass brothers’ previous thousand-dollar-budget indie releases “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead” might be surprised to see their latest movie in a multiplex. Yet their directorial style hasn’t changed with the great new “Cyrus.”
The plot centers on John (John C. Reilly), a lonely divorcee looking for love. He unexpectedly connects at a party with a woman named Molly (Marisa Tomei) — who is attracted to his drunken sincerity — but she mysteriously disappears after each night together.
When John makes a surprise visit to Molly’s house, he meets her college-age son Cyrus (Jonah Hill). At first, Cyrus seems nice if overgrown, but the disappearance of John’s shoes and an unhealthily dependent mother-son relationship bring concealed troubles bubbling to the surface.
Much of the dialogue was improvised from the original script. Several of the film’s funniest moments seem off-the-cuff, like John’s hilariously misguided suggestion that Cyrus’ music “sounds like Steve Miller.”
The second half contains plenty of laughs, too — ones that stick in the throat as John and Cyrus wage war. What’s more surprising is how effectively the end navigates poignant emotional territory, as these damaged characters must learn selfless compassion.
“Cyrus” resembles “Sideways” a little — both stand as independent filmmakers’ most commercial work, feature montages of characters’ faces close-up and end on a similarly uncertain conclusion.
The movie might rely on montages too much, but part of the Duplass brothers’ charm has always been their projects’ rough edges. And the directors excel in tone — like the domestic hell conveyed as John switches between Molly’s house and his tiny apartment, and the new couple’s relationship slowly crumbles under Cyrus’ undermining.
Reilly is as equally matched in comedic and dramatic talents as actors come, which makes him essential to the movie’s pathos-infused proceedings. The screenplay was even written with Reilly in mind.
Tomei’s performance is also strong, and the duo’s lived-in chemistry makes for an involving emotional triangle. It’s also the best Hill has ever been — funny while also embodying his character’s dysfunctional sadness.
“Cyrus” has already fared well at the box office, earning 10th place last week during a limited theater run.
The Duplass brothers show the potential to take Richard Linklater’s example and thrive in both independent and mainstream cinema. Whether they promptly return to the indie film circuit remains to be seen, but if they continue making unique and emphatic films, any future projects will be worth pursuing.