Image: Jonah Hill, John C. Reilly
Chuck Zlotnick  /  AP
John (John C. Reilly, left) winds up in a duel of alpha dorks with his girlfriend’s live-at-home son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), who really, truly wants his mom all to himself.
updated 6/17/2010 3:46:18 PM ET 2010-06-17T19:46:18

The romantic charmer "Cyrus" works in spite of — and maybe a bit because of — two physical mismatches audiences are asked to accept in this story of a suitor stymied by the extreme Oedipal complex of his girlfriend's kid.

One: That petite knockout Marisa Tomei and pug-faced hulk John C. Reilly could tumble into near love at first sight. Two: That petite knockout Tomei and baby-faced hulk Jonah Hill could be mother and son.

Tomei does look out of place at times with the two men in her life in this first star-driven comedy from indie favorites Jay and Mark Duplass ("The Puffy Chair," "Baghead").

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Even if you have trouble buying into the instantaneous head-over-heels romance, she and Reilly make their asymmetry work, quickly becoming one of those beauty-and-the-beast couples that make people remark, "They look so cute together!"

The movie gets kind of creepy when Tomei and Hill cuddle and tickle each other. Granted, any grown son romping that way with his mom would be creepy, but Tomei rolling around with the Baby Huey-esque Hill in mother-and-child context borders on freakish.

Yet that's where some of the best laughs come from — once you get over the ick factor.

The sibling writer-directors have a knack for wringing laughs out of uncomfortable moments, and "Cyrus" is steeped in this sort of cringe-and-wince humor. There's a real sweetness to it at the same time, and the Duplass brothers do a great job balancing that soft side with the nastier edges underlying their story.

They don't look it, but even by their real ages, Tomei is old enough to be Hill's mom (she's 45, he's 26). The movie makes the chronological possibility more believable, casting Hill as 21-year-old Cyrus, king of the mama's boys.

Reilly's John — lonely, depressed and still brooding over his divorce seven years earlier — feels as if he's hit a Vegas jackpot after Molly (Tomei) falls for him at a party. While the romance quickly soars, poor John winds up in a duel of alpha dorks with Molly's live-at-home son Cyrus, who really, truly wants his mom all to himself.

John's so desperate for companionship and so smitten that early on, he's willing to overlook some very odd behavior between Molly and Cyrus, who could make Sigmund Freud blush over the excesses of their apron-strings bond.

Both Cyrus and John eventually take the gloves off, and their war for possession of Molly features some hilarious verbal and physical exchanges.

Reilly has long since perfected his lovable loser persona. He may not break new ground here, but he's such a comfortable old shoe presence, it makes Molly's intense interest in him — despite John's behavior as a borderline stalker — all the easier to accept.

Hill shows promising depth and restraint after far more outgoing roles in "Superbad" and the current comedy "Get Him to the Greek."

Tomei, who drew plenty of scorn for winning an Academy Award with the lightweight "My Cousin Vinny," keeps getting better as she gets older. She and Hill combine to create a relationship that's tender, funny and scary without ever feeling false.

As John's ex-wife and still best friend, Catherine Keener is a fortuitous add-on for the Duplass brothers. It's not much of a role, but Keener's warm, genuine performance in just a few scenes heightens the sense of eavesdropping honesty for which the filmmakers aim.

The stumbling, groping, sometimes piercing dialogue — refined through the Duplass' love of long takes and improvisation — also adds to the authenticity, as does the meandering camera that follows the actors rather than rigidly frames them.

Despite their weird interrelations, these mismatched folks do seem like people you might know for real, the players in another of life's random acts of kinkiness that help to keep our curious species fresh and interesting.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: ‘Cyrus’

Photos: June

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    Above: Slideshow (12) Summer movie guide 2010 - June
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