Cyrus (15)

Click to follow

There are very few films, of whatever type, that actually surprise us, so when one does come along it's tempting to whoop. Cyrus is a sort of skewed comedy-drama by Mark and Jay Duplass (The Puffy Chair), which finds new ways to examine old ideas, such as embarrassment and possessiveness.

John C Reilly plays a lonely fellow named John, who's depressed about his ex-wife (Catherine Keener) getting remarried. Things start to look up when he meets Molly (Marisa Tomei), who seems to find him funny and attractive in spite of his pouchy looks ("I'm Shrek!"). Then he meets the other man in Molly's life, her 21-year-old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill), an overgrown baby with a disconcerting stare, a manipulative streak and the devoted love of his mother. By degrees it becomes clear that Cyrus doesn't want a new guy in their house, and he begins to sabotage John's relationship by telling lies and faking panic attacks. The brothers Duplass, exponents of a low-budget, indistinct genre called mumblecore, eschew the polish of mainstream film-making and jerk the camera about in faux-amateur style, but it's their attention to ripples of awkward feeling – confusion, uppermost – that set them apart. They also get terrific performances from the lead trio, especially Hill, whose stillness of gaze teeters right on the edge of hostility. In a lesser film the struggle for possession of Molly between son and lover might have tipped right into psychosis, but Cyrus pulls back, preferring to mine the comedy, and perhaps the sadness, of a man-child who can't help himself.