Sunday, July 04, 2010

Review - Lymelife

If you think suburban life is hell, try watching movies about how suburban life is hell. Derick Martini's Lymelife might be based on the director's own upbringing (he wrote the screenplay with his brother Steven) but for many viewers, the film will feel all too familiar. In particular, Lymelife can't escape the shadow of The Ice Storm, a film that covered similar themes in a similar setting but with greater insight and class, and the Martinis' personal connection to the material isn't enough to give the events they depict any resonance. Every cliché of the suburban family drama is here – a stifling sense of conformity, marriages crumbling, teens getting their first taste of sex and drugs – and despite the best efforts of the cast, Lymelife just goes over old ground without ever unearthing anything that feels fresh.

Lymelife is set in Long Island in 1979, with that era's outbreak of Lyme disease giving the Martinis a handy ready-made metaphor to play with. Charlie Bragg (a sweaty and bedraggled Timothy Hutton)
has been suffering from the illness for a year, which has put a strain on his relationship with wife Melissa (Cynthia Nixon). As Charlie deteriorates, Melissa takes solace in the arms of her co-worker Mickey Bartlett (Alec Baldwin), whose relationship with his own wife (Jill Hennessy) has hit the skids, a fact that Mickey seems to be unaware of or wilfully ignoring as he ploughs ahead with his plans to build a dream home for his family. Our guide to all of this frustration and misery is 15 year-old Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) who is going through a particularly difficult period in his life, yearning for the Braggs' precocious and seductive daughter (Emma Roberts) while trying to avoid the wrath of the school bullies, and his coming-of-age is the film's central narrative strand.

I suppose there's nothing really wrong with Lymelife, there's just not a great deal to get excited about with it either. The film is well acted by its cast, with Baldwin, Culkin and Hutton giving particularly strong performances, and a couple of scenes have a raw emotional edge. Martini also has a decent visual sense as a director, composing his shorts cleanly and confidently, and he creates an authentic period atmosphere, even if his soundtrack selections have a lazy "hits of the seventies" feel about them. Lymelife's attempts at comedy tend to fall flat, with one scene, the morning after Jimmy loses his virginity, being a misjudgement for all involved, but he cleverly sustains a sense of tension as the film builds towards its tragic finale. Some viewers, however, may find themselves thinking about American Beauty as this finale unfolds, and that's Lymelife's problem; everything it does reminds us of something else. One aspect of the script did stand out for me – the constant mentions of Jimmy's older brother being called up to fight in the Falklands, a conflict that took place years after the events of this film, and one that had no US involvement. That such a sloppy error could have survived every stage of the film's production and found its way into the final cut is perhaps the only thing about Lymelife that's truly remarkable.