The acting in Cyrus never dips below brilliant. The three leads offer grand performances full of genuine emotions, subtle quirks and hearty laughs. The story itself can’t quite match the caliber of the personas created, yet it too provides many honest reflections on the struggles for affection. The tone changes a little too quickly from dark comedy to an absence thereof, leaving a seriousness that is both realistic and perhaps not yet welcome; and while it may fit the film’s strategy, a desire for more ostentatious laughs settles over the weightier dramatic climax.
Lonely, depressed and divorced John (John C. Reilly) finds his life even more unbearable when his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) announces she’s getting remarried. Worried about his reclusive state, Jamie insists that John attend a party she’s throwing and he reluctantly agrees. Attempting to mingle with the female partygoers, John finds his social skills less than adequate until he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), a flirty brunette who finds his honesty and awkwardness more charming than unsettling. Instantly attracted to each other, the two begin dating. When Molly continually leaves in the middle of the night, John is compelled to follow her home to discover the reason for her quick getaways: Cyrus (Jonah Hill), her 21-year-old son who still lives at home and demands attention. What John suspects as simply a slightly odd mother-son relationship escalates into a full-on battle of wits when Cyrus feels his mother’s affections shifting and determines to break the couple up through any means necessary.
Cyrus is a lot like Fatal Attraction meets Cloverfield. The rapid, frequent and gross overuse of zoom-ins and zoom-outs seems like an attempt to copy the styles of Paul Greengrass and Tony Scott, but partnered with odd framing, characters constantly having the tops of their heads cropped out, and invasive close-ups, makes for an exercise in annoyances instead of unique vision. This editing technique certainly adds to the oddness of the characters and events, but it also distracts from focusing on their development. While so much of Cyrus is appropriately weird, an action or horror film might have been a better opportunity to try new camera tricks (or old ones if you compare zooms to the misuse of lens flare effects in Photoshop).
Cyrus has a great start, demonstrating the film’s ability to pull disconcerted laughs from the most embarrassing situations, firmly labeling it as a dark comedy. The characters are intriguing, the acting is excellent and the progression from uncomfortable sex talk to night terrors to Cyrus insisting John join him for a midnight snack while waving a butcher knife around in his undies, is hilariously weird. The film isn’t an outright comedy, which gives it a certain edge as Cyrus becomes more dysfunctional and manipulative, keeping the guessing work and unexpectedness at nerve-wrackingly high levels. It starts subtly and eventually blows up out of proportion. That’s also the downfall – the drama replaces the humor a little too often, creating a more serious, depressingly realistic atmosphere that goes against the initial comedic roots. Perhaps it could have been more entertaining with a lighter tone like Mr. Woodcock or Meet the Parents. Or maybe the directors should have just eased up on the zooms.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)