There's a scene in Cyrus that sums up how I feel about the whole movie. As the battle between Molly's paramour John (John C. Reilly) and her son Cyrus (Jonah Hill) heats up, John enters Cyrus's bedroom late one night to talk to him about John's ex-wife's marriage the next day. The first shot, in all its RED camera glory, is of Reilly's bulging white briefs, which earned a quick giggle from me and the rest of the audience. Is it supposed to be funny ha-ha or funny awkward or not funny at all? Whatever the Duplass brothers' intentions, it instantly reminded me of the scene in Step Brothers when Brennan (Will Ferrell) rubs his testicles on Dale's (Reilly) drum kit.
At their hearts, both films are about the parent/child relationship allowed to run wild without boundaries. Cyrus can't decide if it's supposed to be funny, creepy, honest, sad, or straight-up balls-on-the-drum-kit. Scenes like when John interrupts Cyrus having a midnight snack - pantsless, holding a giant knife - or when Cyrus holds up signs that spell out "You're Going Down" toy with actual comedy, whereas other scenes are more earnest and, for lack of a better description, California process-y. The otherwise flat Molly (Marisa Tomei) is all too willing to talk through emotions, but no one ever gets to the heart of the matter, which is that almost every character in the movie just has really bad boundaries.
It's no wonder Molly is attracted to John; he's just as bad as Cyrus when it comes to his codependent relationship with his ex-wife Jamie (Catherine Keener), despite her fiancée's annoyance. In Step Brothers, at least the parents know their boundaries are way off-kilter and try to remedy their mistakes; of course, eventually they just give up and embrace their screwed-up sons and enable them with awareness. In Cyrus, the women move through these relationships unaware or uncaring of how they're being leeched on.
Most of the film is of close-ups, of giant bobble heads that go in and out of focus with sudden, jarring movements that suggest whoever was holding the camera hit the zoom button a little too hard and then pulled back quickly. Although that's part of their directorial style, Jay and Mark Duplass also wrote the script, so it seems to be no accident that the characters act and react in the same way as the camera.
Click here to read Eric D. Snider's review of Cyrus from Sundance.