When photos of supermodel Stephanie Seymour hanging out with her 18-year-old son at the beach appeared on Gawker.com a few weeks ago, viewers were by and large divided into two camps: those who were weirded out by the eerie physical intimacy between mother and son, and those who thought it was an innocent moment of goofing around. If you belong to the former camp, consider yourself warned. But if the prospect of mining a distinctly icky subject matter — incest — for laughs doesn’t creep you out, then you’ll find plenty to laugh at in Cyrus.
Cyrus is about a divorced middle-aged man whose relationship with the woman of his dreams is thwarted by an unlikely adversary — her 21-year-old, tied-to-the-apron-strings, homeschooled son. John (John C Reilly) has been divorced for seven years but still depends on his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener) for emotional support. When Jamie tells him of her decision to remarry, it pushes John to move on with his life and look for someone special as well. No sooner has he decided this that John meets Molly (Marisa Tomei) at Jamie’s pre-wedding party and the two make an instant connection.
Their relationship moves fast but John can’t figure out why Molly keeps creeping away Cinderella-like in the dead of the night. Enter Cyrus (Jonah Hill), the grown up son who needs mom to rock him to sleep when he has night terrors and panic attacks. Jonah Hill gives a natural performance as the clingy, manipulative, backstabbing Cyrus who puts up a show of loving support while he tries his best to undermine Molly’s new relationship. John takes in stride the inappropriate wrestling between mother and son, the “we leave the bedroom door open” policy, and the fact that Cyrus has no problems walking in on his mom taking a shower, but it doesn’t take long for John and Cyrus to become arch enemies contending for primacy in Molly’s affections. “You need someone to love you in the way I can’t love you,” says Cyrus in what may be the most revolting line of dialogue in the entire movie. It doesn’t help that it is impossible to feel empathy for any of the dysfunctional characters in this film.
Writers/directors Mark and Jay Duplass make a half-hearted attempt at irony, when Cyrus’ relationship with Molly is shown to have parallels with John’s relationship with his ex-wife. John calls up Jamie at odd hours, needs her approval before he can move forward with his new relationship and, despite the best of intentions, spoils her wedding day. Similarly, Molly, too, substitutes one obese, emotionally needy man in her life with another. The viewer is invited to mull over this, without being offered any nuggets of wisdom. Cyrus has been lauded by critics but for the average viewer it is just another meandering, underwhelming mumblecore feature.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, January 30th, 2011.