It’s largely down to the cast: John C Reilly plays John, a divorced schlub who thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he successfully hits on foxy singleton Molly (Marisa Tomei) at a swanky LA party. But there’s always a catch, and in this case it’s Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly’s live-at-home twentysomething son, whose Oedipal intimacy with his oblivious mum puts a spanner in John’s romantic dreams.
Enormous respect is due to directors Mark and Jay Duplass, whose transition to Hollywood hasn’t compromised their singular filmmaking style even a fraction. The result is as warm and wise as the brothers’ homemade debut, ‘The Puffy Chair’, while retaining their commitment to sly genre subversion which began with disassembled horror pastiche ‘Baghead’. ‘Cyrus’ can be viewed as just an effective and intimate romantic comedy, albeit with a pitch-dark edge of discomfort stemming largely from Hill’s chilling, revelatory performance.
But it’s also a witty reflection on Hollywood’s traditional ideas of romance and family, particularly among characters of ‘a certain age’: simply by treating these characters as real, with all the uncertainty, emotional baggage and bad decisions that entails, the Duplasses expertly expose the hypocrisy of the airbrushed all-American ideal.