It’s outrageous, twisted fun when boy meets girl, plus one. Divorced, depressed John, played with impeccable comic timing by John C. Reilly, having just made a drunken ass of himself at an L.A. garden party, staggers into the bushes to pee. Enter Molly, played with an irresistible blend of humor, heart and hotness by Marisa Tomei, having just taken a peek at this strange guy enjoying a blissful stream of urinary release. “Nice penis,” she says, smiling and walking on. Even John, who’s never gotten over his about-to-remarry ex-wife (the sublime Catherine Keener), knows you don’t let a girl like Molly get away. There is an obstacle. Single Molly has a 21-year-old son (Jonah Hill) named Cyrus. And close doesn’t begin to describe their relationship. The T-shirt the studio is marketing with the movie speaks volumes for Cyrus: “Seriously, Don’t F**k My Mom.”
Welcome to the brilliantly bizarro world of the Duplass brothers, Mark and Jay, champions of DIY filmmaking and leaders of mumblecore, a movement of microbudget indie films shot digitally with unknown actors who improv talk, talk, talk to get at the emotions their educated, aimless characters can’t articulate. The Duplass brothers, known for their short films (best intro is This Is John, in which Mark Duplass slaves for seven minutes to get his answering-machine message just right), have contributed two splendidly quirky features to mumblecore, The Puffy Chair and Baghead.
Cyrus is not a DIY film. The Duplass bros are flying with studio financing, major actors, technical finesse and buzz from sold-out previews at the Sundance and South by Southwest film fests. But no way have the guys gone Hollywood. Their approach remains character-based, and their wit – demented as it is – never breaks the bonds of our shared humanity.
Molly tries to keep John away from her son. It’s John who knocks on the door to find the home-schooled, housebound sonny boy, a New Age musician with his own synth-pop studio. Hill knocks the role out of the park, nailing every nuance, comic, tender and scary. The eww factor kicks in when Cyrus saunters into the bathroom where his mom is showering and closes the door. You may fear for John’s life when he spends the night.
It’s more likely you’ll be laughing till it hurts. In a multiplex crowded with formula rom-coms divorced from genuine feeling (that’s you, Sex and the Shitty), Cyrus brims over with hilarity and heartbreak. Cheers to the Duplass brothers for encouraging the actors to fill in the outlines of the script with their own grit and grace notes. Hill, Reilly and Tomei could not be better, riffing off each other like skilled jazz musicians in their portrayals of characters who are damaged goods. Cyrus, the summer’s best, most original and crazily inventive comedy, is potently funny and painfully real.