Cyrus – 2010

Written and Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass

Starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener, Matt Walsh, Kim Rhodes

Marisa Tomei has had an interesting career.  She had acted in major motion pictures since 1984’s The Flamingo Kid, but was thought of as a relative newcomer when she surprised the world with her Best Supporting Actress win for 1992’s My Cousin Vinny.  While most of the world thought she won by mistaken reading of aging actor, Jack Palance, she quietly moved on, collected one great performance after another and, almost 20 years later and just as beautiful, she is now one of the most respected actresses in Hollywood.

Cyrus finds Tomei at full force of effectiveness playing Molly, a single mother of a post-adolescent, Cyrus (Hill) who is not ready to give up his mom, (who, strangely, he calls by her first name).  The sequence that follows is a mix of subtlety and honesty that is both refreshing and breathtaking.

Starting out with John C. Reilly playing John, a likable version of himself.  This is redundant, I know, in that Reilly pretty much is the same guy in every movie.  Having been divorced from his wife, Jamie (Keener) for 7 years, he is literally surprised by her with an appearance at his home.  She has bad news for him: she is getting married.  John, who has been stuck on hold this whole time, is cajoled by Jamie, who still is his friend, to attend a party.  There, he has a moment of unconventional honesty with a woman, who ends up being unnerved by this.  Molly, however, notices and is drawn to John by his complete openness.

One or two things lead to another.  John makes every move that would ruin a good start, but ends up moving ahead beautifully with her.  This part should have gone horribly awry, as it was counter intuitively written to a fault.  Instead, in realizing a need to rise above the material, Tomei and Reilly weave a labyrinth of realistic expressions and realistic responses and, miraculously, pull it off.  Add to this mix Jonah Hill’s subtle performance as the title character.  His performance is uncanny for the role, but well within his own usual game.

When played under the belt, the movie is at its highest degree of effectiveness.  Keener provides a necessary sounding board for Reilly during these times.  The amazing part about this is that she still manages to keep her own character moving forward at the same time.  Things slow down considerably once the rivalry becomes open.  It’s not a distraction, per se, but it kind of makes it feel like Rocky fighting with his right hand for Reilly and Hill.

Tomei and Reilly move this film into funny and realistic territory.

Tomei, however, shines through every scene, however.  She shows a flawed, loving mother, who sees more with her heart, but is not without wisdom.  This would have been an easy role to sleepwalk through.  I could see a lesser actress hamming it up and making her literally a woe begotten single mom or even an overbearing Italian mother.  Tomei is none of these things, and the film is better for it.

The resulting film is probably better than it deserves to be, but someone making it was smart enough to find the right pieces.  If I watch it again, it’ll be because of the acting.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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