Cyrus (20th Century Fox, 2010)

Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly co-starring in a film — it’s gotta be a raunchy, Apatow-style comedy, right? You’d think so, but as Cyrus makes clear, that isn’t always the case. This big(ger) budget coming-out party for writer/directors Mark and Jay Duplass (Baghead, The Puffy Chair) eschews easy laughs in favor of a love story of sorts — albeit one that follows the same bittersweet beats as real life.

Synopsis: Cyrus stars John C. Reilly as John, a middle-aged lonely divorced guy who, as the film opens, gets dragged to a party by his remarried ex-wife (Catherine Keener) — who remains his best friend. After a few clumsy, drunken passes at a variety of women, John encounters Molly (Marisa Tomei), an attractive single-mom who finds John’s social awkwardness appealing.

They hit it off, and quickly begin a tender new relationship. Problems soon arise in the form of Cyrus (Jonah Hill), Molly’s twentysomething son, who has an off-puttingly close relationship to his mom. Soon the jealous Cyrus sets about trying to break them up, and John must figure out how to deal with this unhinged and unexpected rival.

Video: In a word, eh. The Duplasses aren’t really concerned with things like production values, and although Cyrus is a visible step up from their usual fare, that only means it looks like it was made for television instead of made completely on the cheap. As is the case with many modern movies, the picture is perfectly acceptable, but it lacks personality; it’s just moving pictures on a screen. This makes complete sense for the film, but don’t watch it expecting to see anything that screams “Blu-ray” — you’ll see increased detail, sure, but that mostly translates to a clearer look at Reilly’s pores.

Audio: As with the video, Cyrus‘ audio is pretty bare bones — this is a movie that leans heavy in the front channel. Again, it makes sense for the movie, which is almost completely dialogue-driven with a smattering of score and ambient sound, but it’s nothing that takes advantage of the expanded capabilities of the format.

Special Features: They’re disappointingly slim. You get a pair of short deleted scenes, a silly featurette where the Duplasses interview each other, some behind-the-scenes footage from SXSW, a pair of promos, a couple of trailers (one for Never Let Me Go), and a three-minute short featuring Hill and Reilly goofing around with a sampler. Again, in a word: Eh.

Bottom Line: Cyrus was one of the year’s best-reviewed films, which says more about the current state of cinema than anything in this particular movie. It’s an emotional, refreshingly honest story, told with a minimum of artifice and performed by a rock-solid cast, but at bottom, it’s still pretty slight. You get the feeling that the Duplasses really know these characters, but there’s little in Cyrus that really explains why you’re seeing them act the way they do. Reilly’s character seems to be motivated mostly by desperate loneliness, which adds a certain queasiness to the story, especially given that Tomei remains almost a complete mystery throughout the film. While there’s something really lovely about a movie that treats characters this broken with such care and nobility, I couldn’t help wishing they were held together by a stronger narrative thread.

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Jeff Giles

Jeff Giles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as an entertainment writer whose work can be seen at Rotten Tomatoes and a number of other sites. Hey, why not follow him at Twitter while you're at it?

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