Directed by: Derick Martini
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Rory Culkin, Jill Hennessy, Emma Roberts
Time: 1 hr, 49 minutes
Release Date: May 1, 2009 (limited)
Plot: In late-1970’s Long Island, 15-year-old Scott Bartlett (Culkin) finds that he’s growing up amidst a much fishier situation than his well-to-do father (Baldwin) would insist. In hopes to shield her son from a recent outbreak of Lyme disease, Scott’s mother doesn’t allow Scott to leave the house without applying the necessary amount of masking tape to his clothing. This is a hilarious sight, but our first encounter with next-door-neighbor Charlie [Timothy Hutton] that we find out the disease’s wrath (amongst a slew of other situations in this film) may have more crippling effects than it seems.
Who’s It For?: Fans of films that systematically bash the American dream to pieces. Ever since the wayward acclaim American Beauty received, this is a following that has grown perpetually. Perhaps it’s the collective cynicism Americans have adopted for the survival of Nuclear families. Perhaps it’s their dire need for aging screen heroes (Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, perhaps Jeff Goldblum in Igby Goes Down...) stand in for their own failed father figures. Either way, it’s safe to say this film was made to reach those who have stopped trying to salvage what’s left of a dwindling hope for true happiness.
Expectations: Baldwin’s inclusion in the cast lends the idea of a comical edge to this dramatic interpretation of families on “the rocks.” The hint that this is a misleading assumption only further peaks interest in the film itself. How do you walk the fine line between humor and sorrow? It’s as risky a cinematic move as you’ll see, especially in the Indie vein (which this is). The tension created by this plight, and the stellar cast included in this collective attempt is enough to garner an excitable interest in at least giving it a try.
Alec Baldwin as Mickey Bartlett: You can ask the eldest Baldwin brother to do just about anything, especially when you send him back to his roots of Long Island. The problem is, ever since his inclusion on the set of "30 Rock" he’s gone from character-film actor to television-juggernaut, and this transition can compromise cinematic talents by vexing audience members as to which version of Baldwin they are getting. A lesser actor would have failed to transpose his talents between mediums, but Mickey Bartlett comes across as a very real character whose stymied sense of humor masks a deeper deviance that secretly rips his family apart until it comes to a head.
Rory Culkin as Scott Bartlett: The youngest Culkin brother may be the family’s most subtly talented thespian. As a 15-year-old father-idolizing kid with little acknowledgment of the lingering tension between his parents, Culkin’s transition from an innocent kid to a visibly torn young man is an impressive performance that signifies the arrival of a fresh cinematic talent. When you’re young, and asked to portray a son of estranged parents, this reality may hit closer to home than you’re comfortable with. The Culkin’s aren’t the most functional family in movie-history, and perhaps this allowed the character of Scott Bartlett to exist in such a genuine way. Either way, Culkin personifies the awkwardness with which a young mean struggles through adolescence as his parents own problems bombard him from both sides.
Jill Hennessy as Brenda Bartlett: It’s difficult to expect much from an actress who includes her role in Robo Cop 3 as a glowing part of her resume. However, the present-day TV star ably provides a fresh look into the mind of a mother whose husband has broken the bond of marriage, despite her insistence to keep everything “peachy” on the surface. This is a likeable woman who loves her kids, but largely lives in the past to help her forget how fabricated, and artificial the present has become. Hennessy’s efforts may help her future as a movie star. This is a rare feat for a woman north of 30, and I wouldn’t even elude to this if her performance hadn't been so affective.
Emma Roberts as Adrianna Bragg: There have been so many teenaged starlets initiating their careers in recent memory it’s difficult to tell them apart. Roberts’ talent lies in her ability to come off as natural without appearing to act at all. Ironically, this (in my humble opinion) is true acting. This role suits her because it depicts a young lady whose development into a woman intermittently stifled from her confidence with young men. On the surface, she comes across as sure of herself, and wielding all the power. But, beneath this false self-assurance lies a girl terrified of trusting another young person with her deepest secrets. This is a tall enough order for any “next big thing” young actress. Roberts makes this role her own, and enhances her standing amongst her many counterparts.
Timothy Hutton as Charlie Bragg: You can’t tell an Oscar-winner what to do without allowing him or her to trust their instincts, and bring a role to the screen in an exceptional way. Hutton portrays a middle-aged father whose life was shattered after he contracted Lyme disease from deer tick. His love of hunting was stripped from him. His family distances themselves from him more everyday. He’s lost the love of his life, and become a vastly different person from the [assumed] confident husband and father he was before the unfortunate incident. Hutton balances subtle character flaws with buried sub-textual angst so well it’s the film’s most haunting performance.
Talking: Any minor attempts at humor come to pass in the expected “coming of age” conversations between the younger actors onscreen. The laughs are generated when all actors interact and forgo addressing the obvious problems they neglect everyday. This makes their lives more relatable, and more enjoyable to watch.
Sights A pale portrait of a drab Long Island winter that provides the perfect backdrop for such a melancholy feature film.
Sounds: A nice, breathable soundtrack that contrasts the buckshot twists the plot takes when you least expect it to do so. The late 70s provided an eccentrically diverse musical offering. Punk was reaching its peak, but so was disco, and the film pontificates this point by giving us the classic rock that seems to trump all baby-boomers' reflections on such a convoluted era.
Best Scene: When Mickey, and his eldest son Jimmy (Kieran Culkin in a staunch, impactfully subtle role) come to fists over the lingering distance that’s comes between them. It’s a great, albeit brief portrait of a father-son standoff that could never actually happen. Love is a stronger bond than hate, no matter how pissed a son is at a father, or vice versa. Each character’s confusion with how to react in the situation jerks tears from their eyes, and rage in their hearts.
Ending: Open-ended, but it sort of works. You won’t “get it” until you see it for yourself. Without the risk of spoiling it, I will say whomever you feel has it coming at the film’s conclusion may certainly be getting his (or hers), but you’ll be torn between whether or not you still want to see this person “done in.”
Questions: Anyone with trust issues will go home disappointed, but they should feel better about their own misfortunes. You can’t expect things to wrap up splendidly when the whole film insinuates otherwise. Hollywood can’t touch reality the same way reality TV shows could never accurately depict the real world. If this is something you don’t understand, you’re questions are invalid anyway.
Rewatchability: Add to your DVD/Blu-Ray collection. For the same reasons you’ve added American Beauty, Igby Goes Down, and (perhaps)Outside Providence.
OVERALL Coming-of-age tales are largely recycled swill that fall into the category of “failed attempts at lending us a fresh interpretation of an age-old story.” Lymelife is a rare exception. It’s a story about growing up surrounded by things that certainly aren’t as they seem. This seems tritely cliché, but the film’s actors provide a fresh perspective that assist Derick Martini’s direction in fantastically idiosyncratic ways. This film could have sunk without such a mesmerizing, carefully honest ensemble. Great acting (as I’ve said before) is found in subtle, often brutal, REAL interpretation of what it’s like to live in a certain kind of person’s shoes. These “certain kind of people” happen to live in a world where their happiness is slipping away from them. The reasons may be different, but the emotions evoked by these sad occurrences provide a collectively stunning story as invigorating as it is relatable for many an audience member. This will make several “Top 10 lists,” but only amongst critics who have stellar taste in films.
Final Score: 9/10