Of the many sub-genres of films to come out in recent years, one of the ones I’ve not been particularly fond of has been mumblecore. The ones I’ve seen have come across as really pretentious and self-indulgent. The only time where I’ve seen some artistic merit in mumblecore has been watching the Brows Held High video on Tiny Furniture and even that hasn’t made me accepting of the merits of mumblecore. This film had some potential to bring me around though, mainly because of the really strong core cast, but I have to say that this film was not the one to convince me that mumblecore is the genre for me.
The plot focuses on John, a man who’s been in a depression since his wife divorced him a few years prior. After finding out that his ex is getting remarried, his depression gets even deeper. However, after he gets invited to a party, he strikes up a conversation with Molly, who he eventually starts a relationship with. However, her adult son Cyrus complicates the matter as he is actively trying to sabotage the relationship in order to keep Molly for himself. One of the main things that works about the film is the battle of wills between John and Cyrus but it’s also here that problems with the film set in. The dialogue in these scenes is brilliantly done and it’s incredibly compelling to see how John and Cyrus attempt to one up each other in their efforts to gain Molly’s affections but these scenes take up nowhere near enough of the film. Most of the film is spent on John trying to prove that Cyrus is trying to mess up the relationship and when he finds out and starts the battle of wills, the film is nearly over. I feel the film would have been more interesting if this had been the focus. This also leads into another problem I had with the film, mainly the tone. The premise of the film is one ripe for more absurdist comedy, in a way similar to the British version of Death At A Funeral, but the films plays this premise completely straight for the most part. The scenes in the film regarding Cyrus that work are because they have a more over the top tone but that tone doesn’t stretch for the whole film. It’s only at the end of the film that this tone works because of the more downbeat style that this ending represents in relation to the characters. This is a problem I have with a lot of the mumblecore films I’ve seen, the style of mumblecore doesn’t fit the plot that they go with. This style is more suited to down-to-earth dramas and comedies, not ones with more absurd premises like this one. I feel that if people like Phil Lord and Chris Miller have a style that’s more suited to this premise than the Duplass Brothers.
However, the main elements that keep the film working are the performances. John C Reilly is perfectly cast as John. The depressed and weary nature of the character, along with the awkwardness in starting conversations is brilliantly presented. When he meets Molly, the relationship between the two works really well due to the strong chemistry between Reilly and Marisa Tomei. When Cyrus comes into play, the paranoia that Reilly presents is really compelling, along with the desperation and frustration he feels regarding the conflict with Cyrus, along with a more devious nature when he starts the battle of wills. Jonah Hill meanwhile is brilliant as Cyrus. He has a brilliantly creepy and devious nature that makes him a really hateable character, along with the distrust of John, but there is a clear sense of love between Cyrus and Molly and a lightening up of the character at the end. Marisa Tomei is great as well. There’s a really loving nature she represents, but also a bit of a creepy nature in relation to Cyrus. It’s clear that she raised Cyrus a bit too closely and this has emotionally stunted him and the almost incestuous nature of the relationship is presented brilliantly. It’s also clear that Molly cares about John and is doing everything she can to balance her care for him and Cyrus, along with her bias towards believing Cyrus over John. As a three hander between Reilly, Hill and Tomei the film works brilliantly. However, I do think that Catherine Keener and Matt Walsh are a bit wasted. Keener does great work in her scenes but her character doesn’t have much to do whilst Walsh isn’t allowed to use his great comedic talent, which goes back to my problem with the tone of the film not always working, and this did detract from the film for me.
Overall, Cyrus is a film where the whole is weaker than the sum of its parts. The performances from Reilly, Hill and Tomei are excellent and there are moments in the plot that work brilliantly, but the overall tone of the film doesn’t quite work for me and this film highlights a lot of the problems I have with the mumblecore sub-genre of films. This is a film that has the potential to be a great comedy but is too caught up in its own seriousness that it forgets to tell enough jokes.
My Rating: 3/5