As the summer movie season draws to a close, more serious minded films will begin flooding the multiplexes, mostly in search of Oscar love. For those who’d prefer to experience some Oscar-baiting, fall movie gravitas at home, the coming of age drama Lymelife arrives on Blu-ray and DVD this week. This quirky tale of a 15-year old Long Island teen experiencing first love, parental discord, and disease-carrying tick paranoia, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January before receiving a brief theatrical run back in April. Clearly modeled after the award winning suburban angst dramas American Beauty and The Ice Storm, and featuring a solid ensemble cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Emma Roberts and Rory and Kieran Culkin, the film didn’t receive much Oscar prognostication from critics, and went largely ignored by moviegoers who preferred April’s Beyonce Knowles/Ali Larter catfight to Lymelife’s more relatable depiction of domestic disturbance. The film should, however, receive new life on home video, where fans of quirky coming-of-age stories can discover its minor charms. My review after the jump:
Rory Culkin, the youngest of the Culkin acting clan, reveals a refreshingly non-Disneyfied presence in the role of Scott Bartlett, an awkward teen boy growing up in the home of an ambitious real estate developer patriarch, played by a more-serious-than-I-prefer-him Alec Baldwin, and an unhappy, Queens-transplant mother, played by Jill Hennessy. When we first meet the Bartlett family, Scott’s mother is panicked that Scott will catch Lyme’s disease, which is understandable considering that the neighboring Bragg family has basically fallen apart since Mr. Bragg, played by Oscar winner Timothy Hutton, was diagnosed with the life sucking illness. Cynthia Nixon plays against type as Mrs. Bragg, a chipper real estate agent working for Baldwin’s company who is secretly having an affair with her boss, while Emma Roberts plays the Bragg’s sexually premature daughter and the object of Scott’s masochistic affection.
The plot of Lymelife mostly revolves around the connections and disconnections of these characters in a style reminiscent of the far more effective and haunting American Beauty and The Ice Storm, but the film is not without its share of creative flourishes. The writing is generally strong and the film’s soundtrack consistently illustrates Scott’s conceit that “you can always hear the train on Long Island, no matter how far away,” which lends the film some nice sonic poetry.
Lymelife’s biggest hook to potential viewers will undoubtedly be its large ensemble cast. Culkin, as mentioned, is certainly a refreshing young male lead, but his understated performance is easily trumped by that of more charismatic brother Kieran, who shows up throughout the film as Rory’s tough, army-enlisted brother. It probably doesn’t help the film that Kieran’s appearance reminds one of the better coming of age movies The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and Igby Goes Down – in which he starred – but it does result in a nicely naturalistic chemistry between the brothers that buoys the film.
The chemistry between Baldwin and Hennessy, on the other hand, is it a bit bloodless. Although the two are supposed to be enacting estrangement, it almost seems like they’re acting in two different films. And while Baldwin and Nixon have certainly proven themselves powerhouses on screen and stage, here, they’re given little time to develop the requisite heat to sell their illicit, family destroying coupling. It’s also worth noting that Baldwin, Mister Long Island himself, forgoes a native accent in the film, while Nixon adopts one a bit too sporadically.
I attribute the performance issues mostly to the fact that relatively novice director Derick Martini may have been in over his head with such a top heavy cast. But Martini must be given credit for hustling to make a film about actual human beings in a movie climate littered with far too many robots and cartoonish humans. Although it is fall now, so the climate should begin transforming.
Bonus material includes deleted scenes, a director’s commentary and an alternate ending.
While not the strongest of the period coming of age dramedys to emerge in the past ten years, Lymelife is worth checking out for its quirky period details and the easy chemistry of the always engaging brothers Culkin.
Lymelife is rated R for language, some sexual content, violence and drug use. It has a run time of 93 minutes.