If you enter this movie expecting a comedy, you will probably be disappointed. If you enter expecting a drama, you will be pleasantly surprised. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of moments in the film are quite humorous, but humor is not this film’s priority. Instead it focuses on the relationship between John (John C. Reilly) and Molly (Marisa Tomei), which comes into question thanks to Molly’s overbearing and manipulative son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). The film is filled with odd people: John is socially awkward, Molly is overprotective of her son, and Cyrus, like I mentioned, is overbearing and manipulative. The combination of the three is a recipe for disaster.
Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly have never been known as serious actors, which is what their roles here call for. Their films usually seem to cover a very limited scope of genre, mostly in the range of “silly, teenage oriented comedy.” While I think both Jonah and John are very funny, it’s always nice to see them try new things. Actors have been casted against type before to great effect, for example Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. A similar thing is done here with Cyrus, which I believe is also quite effective. Both actors did very well with these serious parts, especially Jonah Hill. He spends nearly the entire movie staring at John in a slightly creepy way that seems to suggest a multitude of emotions. Marisa Tomei should also not be forgotten. She was, as usual, quite good. She was fun and charming, and seemed to genuinely care for Cyrus and John.
One of the main reasons John C. Reilly was cast in this film was his passion for improv. He has mentioned before that he’s always been interested in using improvisational techniques to tell a dramatic story, rather than tell a joke. It’s an interesting idea, one that the film certainly utilizes effectively. In addition to this, the film was apparently shot in order (most movies are shot out of order because of location and actor availability). The improv and the order of the film seem to help it feel like was happening in the moment, which improved the flow and structure of the film. Very few films benefit from this kind of reality illusion, but Cyrus certainly did.
The camerawork also suggested this illusion of reality. However, in my personal opinion, it takes the idea a little too far. The cinematography was not spectacular. The lighting was trying too hard to be “real,” which simply made the image muddy. Wider shutter angles (longer exposure time that still uses the standard 24 frames per second) also seemed to be utilized in a few scenes, resulting in a lot of motion blur. It was incredibly distracting because it looked like it was shot on a cheap digital camera. Sure enough, at the end of the credits there was a big “RED ONE” logo staring up at me. Before anyone gets up in arms, yes, the Red One is a cheap camera. If you want to go digital, there are much better ones out there. In addition to the digital look, the entire film was handheld and the camera was constantly zooming in or out very quickly. It was a little nauseating and distracting. Personally, I would have rather seen this film shot more cleanly. They can keep everything else about it, but just please swap out the camera, put it on a tripod or a steadicam, and get better lighting.
Besides the cinematography, Cyrus was enjoyable. It had a few laughs, some good drama, and plenty of awkward moments that will have you holding your head in your hands. If you love independent cinema, you’ll enjoy it (even though it isn’t technically independent, it was directed and written by the Duplas Brothers, who usually write/direct outside of the studio system). If you like more mainstream cinema, there is probably enough in the film to hold your interest.
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(All ratings are out of five, with halves)
Dialogue: **** 1/2
Editing: *** 1/2
Art Direction: ***
Overall “Film as Entertainment” Rating: ***
Overall “Film as Art” Rating: *** 1/2
Overall: *** 1/2