About halfway through the movie Cyrus, it occurred to me that the title character could be interpreted as a metaphor for problems people develop in their relationships. The metaphor is simple, but then so is the movie. Your “Cyrus” could be your girlfriend talking in her sleep all night, saying “I hate you”, or something; it could be your girlfriend spending all her time with her ex-boyfriend; it could be your chronic unemployment. It could probably be all of those things at once. Which is partly why, despite it being a perfectly charming and funny and entertaining film, I can’t help but feel weird about Cyrus.
Let me explain: Were it not for Molly’s sheltered and possessive son Cyrus, she and John would probably have a loving and happy relationship. But, of course, relationships aren’t that simple; their problems can’t be attributed to one thing. Relationships are made of problems: big problems, small problems, nuanced problems, old problems, new problems. People are endlessly complicated and this usually makes it hard for us to deal with one another.
This isn’t the case with Cyrus.
All of the actors are great. Here, the problem here is with the script. At the beginning of the movie, John is just a depressed dude who’s been divorced for seven years. His ex-wife is his best friend. It’s sweet. While at a party, he gives a girl a whole speech about how he’s been in a bad place but he thinks that he’s still a pretty good guy. Although it sounds contrived, the speech actually comes off as pretty buyable.
When John falls in love with Molly, his depression disappears. And, were it not for Cyrus, they would likely be happy for ever after. It’s a very Hollywood kind of motif; the viewer is treated to a fantasy world in which the “Cyrus” (stick with the metaphor, here) is clearly identifiable. Reilly truly wants nothing more than Molly. He doesn’t even want his ex-wife to feel jealous. He’s just the nicest guy in the world.
My favorite moment in the movie is toward the end, when Cyrus goes to John’s house and knocks on the door and John goes off on him, yelling some pretty mean shit. No longer Mr. Nice Guy. This is the only time we see the real pathos of this character, the seven years of loneliness and depression that have left him so vulnerable that he’ll give up on Molly because he can’t be hurt again. This moment of irrational, irate emotion is the closest Cyrus gets to doing that thing that only very good movies do, where they have the all-around likable character make some terrible choice and the whole audience just gets so caught up thinking, “No, don’t do that!”
John and his ex-wife have a much more compelling relationship. They have stayed close friends and still call one another before making any major life decision. John is able to care about his ex-wife and not have it be a problem with Molly. It reminds me of the relationship the main character has with his ex-wife in Don DeLillo’s Americana:
Divorce is a wonderful invention, much better than protracted separation or murder. It destroys tension. It liberates many wholesome emotions which had been tyrannized by the various mental cruelties. Divorce is the most educating route to a deep understanding between two people. It’s the second and most important step in arriving at a truly radiant form of self-donative love.
Molly and Cyrus are as one dimensional as John. The weird, new agey, way that Molly has raised Cyrus has made him a sort of man-child. Because he’s maybe somewhere between eighteen and twenty-one, his sense of humor is pretty odd; he knows about sex and stuff, but he’s still pretty immature. It’s definitely a clever way to achieve awkward humor. But, beyond that, the Duplass brothers didn’t conceive much in the way of character development.