Duplass brothers put rom-com on edge in ‘Cyrus’ 

Discomforting romantic comedies are the specialty of Jay and Mark Duplass, and “Cyrus” — their bigger-budget but similarly off-kilter follow-up to the do-it-yourself-style “The Puffy Chair” and “Baghead” — reaffirms the filmmaking brothers’ lock on that idiosyncratic groove.

Expect to be creeped out, surprised and semisweetly amused by this collision of two love stories — one conventional and one flirting with the Oedipal.

While sporting a big-name cast and a slicker look than previous Duplass fare, “Cyrus” comes from the brothers’ familiar mold: action-spare storytelling, subsurface tension, and lots of improvisation and extended close-ups as characters process what is swirling in their heads.

More succinctly, these guys come up with a good premise and roll with it.

John C. Reilly plays John, a depressed L.A. film editor whose doldrums worsen when his ex-wife, Jamie (Catherine Keener) — whom he uses as an emotional shoulder — informs him she’s getting remarried.

At a party where Jamie and her fiancé (Matt Walsh) have forced him to mingle, John meets his dream woman, Molly (Marisa Tomei).

To his amazement — “I’m like Shrek,” is how he views himself — she’s charmed by him.

A relationship develops, but a formidable obstacle emerges. Molly has a son, a live-in, passive-aggressive 21-year-old named Cyrus (Jonah Hill).

Mother and son share an extreme attachment that, while palatable, is sufficiently unsettling to prompt “yuck” utterings from viewers and memorable reaction shots from John. (Cyrus nonchalantly enters the bathroom while his mother is showering, for starters.)

Basically, Cyrus won’t share Molly with anyone. Via lies, threats and petty theft, he tries to sabotage Molly and John’s relationship.

John responds by waging war with Cyrus, Duplass-style (glaring, yelling and a few punches, mostly).

Like past Duplass work, “Cyrus” is too low voltage to be a stunner and is more raw than edgy. Like “Baghead,” it focuses primarily on the men. Tomei’s Molly, while appealing, serves mainly as an object of affection.

But this is still a fresh, funny and, strangely enough, rather endearing comedy about love, loneliness and dependency.

While not without studio-style clichés, it generally subverts the rom-com structure and abounds with engaging, natural moments. Some are quietly hilarious.

Reilly is immensely likable as a guy who looks and feels rumpled, and he makes John’s crescendoing anger at the horrendously behaving Cyrus amusing and compelling. Hill’s Cyrus is deadpan funny, scarily unruffled and seriously creepy.

Together, the two have us thinking anything might happen.


Cyrus (three stars)

Starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill

Written and directed by Jay and Mark Duplass

Rated R

Running time 1 hour 32 minutes

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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