Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Movie Review: Lymelife

Lymelife ** ½
Directed By: Derick Martini.
Written By: Derick Martini & Steven Martini.
Starring: Alec Baldwin (Mickey Bartlett), Kieran Culkin (Jimmy Bartlett), Rory Culkin (Scott Bartlett), Jill Hennessy (Brenda Bartlett), Timothy Hutton (Charlie Bragg), Cynthia Nixon (Melissa Bragg), Emma Roberts (Adrianna Bragg).

A movie like Lymelife serves as a reminder that indie movies are as much beholden to clichés and formula as Hollywood blockbusters. True, they are different clichés and formulas, but how many times have we see movies like this one? Focused on two dysfunctional families on Long Island in the 1970s, the movie is a coming of age story of Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) who finds out that his seemingly picture perfect life is anything but. Sure, the performances are good, and at times the movie is quite funny or moving, but I sat that and asked myself when the movie was over “Is that all there is?” At this point, if you’re going to make a movie like this, don’t you have to bring something more to the table?

Jimmy is a 15 year old who idolizes his older brother Scott (Rory Culkin) who is in the army, and is in love with best friend since childhood Adrianna (Emma Roberts). Jimmy’s parents are Mickey (Alec Baldwin), who is in real estate trying to get a new development off the ground and Brenda (Jill Hennessy) who misses her old life in Queens. Adrianna’s mother Melissa (Cynthia Nixon) works for Mickey as his assistant and her father Charlie (Timothy Hutton) is currently unemployed and going crazy, apparently because he has lime disease.

Throughout the course of the movie Jimmy tries to make the uneasy transition between friends and romance with Adrianna, a process made harder because he’s shy, she says she only dates older guys, and the discovery that his father is screwing her mother. Oh, and he tells a stupid lie to his friend about how he already fingered her and her insides “felt like a jelly donut”. Meanwhile, the adults have their own problems. Brenda seems to be slipping into alcoholism, and is tired of Mickey screwing everything that moves. Mickey is tired of his wife being so cold. Melissa seems to be falling more and more for Mickey, and is growing to hate Charlie. Charlie is on the brink of completely snapping, and considering he has a rifle around all the time, the results could be dangerous.

Perhaps the movies sanest character is Scott, who suffers no delusions that his family life is perfect, and made the perfectly rational decision to get away as far as possible when he joined the army. He cares for his brother and he and his real life brother have an excellent sibling chemistry together, no doubt because they have had years of practice. He feels sorry for his mother, but knows that she will do nothing to change what is happening. He hates his dad equally, but again, thinks that doing anything is futile. When he comes home on leave, his strategy seems to be to try and get through it all as quickly and painlessly as possible.

For the most part, the performances in the movie are quite good. Baldwin at first wins us over with his easy charm, but as the movie goes along and his secrets are revealed, he gets darker and a little meaner. Hennessy is perfect as the long suffering wife who doesn’t think she deserves any better. Both Culkins are very good as the brothers trying to navigate their difficult lives. Young Emma Roberts is slowly becoming a real beauty, and is the perfect personification of that girl every guy had a crush on in high school. Cynthia Nixon is good as the wife of a crazy man, who tries to put on a happy face, and likes to get all gussied up for her “new man”. The weak link is surprisingly, and disappointingly, Hutton who makes Charlie a little too far gone to be truly believable. From his first scene in the movie, you know this guy is completely unhinged and is going to snap at some point.

The film was co-written and directed by Derick Martini making his feature debut (his writing partner is his brother Steven). He shows talent in working with the actors, and the screenplay contains in it some very good dialogue. Perhaps it was smart of him to not be overly ambitious with his debut film, and the film certainly does have its supporters (Martin Scorsese is one of the films producers, and the film won the International Critics Prize at the Toronto Film Festival last year). But for me, the film never quite comes together like it should. Yes, it’s a decent film, and is probably more honest about young love (and the lack of a boys sexual prowess) than most movies are. It just felt like I had seen this movie before, and better, then this time around.

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