"it’s a nightmare situation for any aspiring step-parent"

Imagine a hot lady (Molly, played by Marisa Tomei) approaches you at a party, after you’ve made a prized fool of yourself. She sees endearing qualities in you that nobody else can - and on first glance. There has to be a catch, surely? There is for ‘Shrek-described’ looker, divorcee John (John C. Reilly) in the shape of seriously freaky family baggage, an adult son called Cyrus (Jonah Hill) who is unwilling to share mom Molly. It’s a nightmare situation for any aspiring step-parent.

Hollywood’s finest young talent in subtle comedy writing, the Duplass brothers, Jay and Mark, have penned another bittersweet and touching comedy relationship drama, only this time for the mainstream crowd, shot in a docu-hand-held style to inject a sense of realistic but anti-romcom-contrived gloss to it: Imagine a far cry from the likes of a Nancy Meyers sugar-coated environment of suburban bliss that smothers you like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day. Duplass comedy takes very real scenarios, then highlights and picks away at the growing relationship crevices, albeit suggestively, re-visiting old wounds and not giving you any clues as to whether the fledging romance will stand the course of its scrutiny. It’s a very personal and intricate style of film-making, designed to charm, challenge, and celebrate unconventionality – almost like a Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) format, but it will appeal more to the average cinemagoer.

Cyrus is a man-boy with techno-music aspirations who sees his warm, funny and hip mom as more of a best buddy and life companion than a parent. Their relationship has been an unconventional mother-son one that simultaneously tries to question the effects of spending too much time in each another’s company and plays as the fascinating sub-text to this story. In fact Cyrus has more in common with French cinema’s obsession with close-family relationships, bordering on incestuous leanings, than anything Hollywood has dared tackle of late – and in the comedy bracket. Nonetheless, in true Duplass style, this analysis is merely implied as food for thought, whilst you remain tickled and entertained, not pressed on the consciousness, rather angling for shrewd receptiveness from its audience.

Apatow-schooled Hill masterfully fills the role of Cyrus with his usual offbeat and inquisitive ramblings, like an overgrown prepubescent kid hungry for more knowledge. As in art as in real life, Hill is not your conventional movie star, making this whole new raft of comedy since the days of Superbad a stimulating offering, but one that needs to explore a new tangent if it is to remain fresh. Therefore, Hill gives an unsettling and unpredictable performance as Cyrus who has a slightly chilling agenda, but one not so unbelievable as to have his character bordering on pantomime. What keeps the comedy, its credibility and the Cyrus character grounded is Cyrus’s swing between frightened youngster and manipulative, unhinged adult, displaying all the responses we might in turn feel, if our comfortable existence was about to change.

The fluffy humour associated with the ‘com’ in romcom actually stems from John’s assumptions and reactions to Cyrus’s next move, almost like the joker and facilitator in the proceedings that keeps the irony apparent and defuses any tension – helped by superb performances from recently-screen-absent Tomei and Catherine Keener as Jamie, John’s best friend and ex-wife. It is always a pleasure to watch someone as multi-faceted as Reilly cutting his teeth on darker issues, but never neglecting the self-depreciating comedy he is best known for. Thankfully, he leaves the somewhat nauseating idiocy at the door, maturing in character role-playing in this. It is at the ending that Reilly gets to deal a new hand that keeps things interesting, but it would have been more satisfying to see his character allowed to go further in response, plus the ending seems to be a bit of a standard romcom cop-out and the only predictable element of the film. Perhaps the Duplass clan had another non-studio-appeasing ending in mind?

All in all Cyrus marks a comedy triumph for the Duplass Brothers and its cast in keeping its affairs unpredictable, but also familiar in response to its subject matter, without forgetting to thoroughly entertain us at the same time. It is a Duplass quest to hit every note in the emotional relationship spectrum that is essential for good comedy these days, but all with a flare of effortlessness that they are bound to become known for.