We watched Cyrus, the creepy-funny (but unfortunately, ultimately too “sweet,” as well) indie movie. John Reilly (John) has been divorced for years from his ex-wife Jamie, played by Catherine Keener, who, in the film’s opening scene, shows up at his grim bachelor apartment and finds him apparently masturbating while listening to loud hip-hop on headphones. So, he’s stuck, regressed, auto-erotic, acting like a sad adolescent. She drags him to a party with her fiance — they all get along, although the fiance seems a bit understandably exasperated by John’s presence (later, he’s with them as they choose the flowers for their wedding). John makes a drunken fool of himself but still manages to hook up with sexy Marisa Tomei (Molly). They bond dancing to the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” so there’s a sense that she can meet him halfway in regressive nostalgia for the period of their adolescence (the 1980s). Molly’s first sight of John occurs when she stumbles on him drunkenly pissing in the bushes and cracks, “nice penis!” This is a re-play of the just previous scene when John’s ex-wife walked in on him masturbating, but now John’s self-exposure plays for laughs and even flattery: Molly offers the promise of a cheerful acceptance of his sexuality. (N.b. “John” = penis.)
Then, John meets the guardian of Molly’s sexuality, her strange 21-year old son, Cyrus (Jonah Hill). Cyrus easily could’ve been overplayed, but Hill turns him into an effectively restrained, yet very creepy presence. (Sometimes he almost reminds me of Peter Lorre; Manohla Dargis compares him to Norman Bates.) Cyrus is a demonic figure, a “double” for John and an image of arrested, stunted male sexuality: what John fears he may be. Cyrus disapproves of his mother’s relationship with John. “Don’t fuck my mom, John,” he blurts out early on, adding, “you’ll have you get used to my sense of humor!” John notices a photo on the mantelpiece of Molly breast-feeding an at-least three-year-old Cyrus. Molly won’t close the bedroom door at night; Cyrus freely walks into the bathroom where his mother is showering in a transparent stall. All in all, she and Cyrus are much too intimate.
Cyrus’s presence infuses John’s relationship with Molly — and adult sexuality generally — with undertones of incestuous desire. The first time John sleeps with Molly, he’s amazed and grateful and calls her a “sex angel;” everything plays realistically (he’s been lonely and celibate for a while), but there’s always a more fantasy-based component: John is still the stunted adolescent who at some level is sleeping with a mother figure; Cyrus’s hulking, intrusive presence (he and John are physically comparable, big burly guys) haunts all sexual contact between John and Molly like John’s bad conscience.
So Cyrus is, according to the movie’s logic, John’s regressed, un-evolved double. We first see John acting like a horny, confused teenager, shamefully caught in the act by a mother-figure; Cyrus embodies John’s fears that he can never in fact get past that phase.
Cyrus’s only occupation is “working on his music career” and composing his strange synth music. The sight of Cyrus manipulating his keyboards and computers while staring fixedly at John to the throbbing strains of the music is simply amusing, but it also offers an interesting contrast to the pop music (the Human League) John and Molly first danced to. On the one hand, “Don’t You Want Me?” is literally “regressive,” an oldie from the 80s, yet in another sense, Cyrus’s throbbing, wordless, and as such “pre-symbolic” music is more fundamentally regressive, and a possible figure for a sexuality that cannot accommodate itself to the real world and its language. That is, the pop song simply asks, “do you want me?” and declares its own desire, but Cyrus’s music can only imply and insinuate, never state outright what exactly is desired.
John has to spruce up to go to the party, where he meets Molly, so there’s a sartorial transformation as he tries to present himself as an adult man, not an aging kid, putting away his aging-teenager outfits; the first act of aggression Cyrus commits is to steal and hide John’s ratty old sneakers (which Jamie has always tried to convince him to throw out). It’s as if Cyrus is suggesting to John that he cannot dispose of his “adolescent” self or desire as embodied in those sneakers; Cyrus will hold onto the stained white Pumas (Adidas?) as a reminder or token of who John truly is.
At the end, John and Cyrus have it out in a big physical fight — at a wedding! — and then make up. Cyrus admits he has “serious issues,” and in the final scene, Molly beckons John to come back to her in her home (they’d broken up). Clearly, the movie should’ve ended in horror-movie fashion, with some either explicit or implicit suggestion that the unreformed Cyrus, as a figure for stunted, pre-adult male sexuality, will continue to haunt them — maybe John would see something out of the corner of his eye, someone looking through the window? But no… it all ends with Cyrus apparently cured or willing to work towards a cure, no longer dedicated to thwarting John and his mother’s relationship, reconciled with the realities of adult sexuality and happy that his mother has “found someone” other than himself.
Very disappointing! The movie was still worth watching, very amusing at times, but it could have been so much better if it had developed its own logic to its conclusion. It also should have been titled Don’t Fuck My Mom. I wonder if this was a classic case of the studio insisting on an ill-advised happy ending…