REVIEW: Lymelife [2009]

“She can bring you an icepack or some Yoo-hoo or something”

There is nothing like a critically acclaimed indie to bring you back to reality after the opening weeks of summer and the influx of blockbusters like Star Trek, Terminator, and Transformers 2. Derick Martini’s Lymelife is just that kind of film. A story about two families and their comings and goings through each others’ lives, we watch as Rory Culkin’s Scott sees the world around him, seemingly idyllic, fall apart. He sees his father as a hero, getting richer and richer everyday with his housing developments; his mother slowly devolving into lunacy as she misses Queens despite the “wonderful” life they live; his brother as a war hero fighting for the country’s safety; and his neighbor Adrianna as the girl of his dreams. But none of it is real. Just like the fantasies he plays in front of his mirror—pretending to be Han Solo—the American Dream hasn’t left the Bartlett family happy. On the cusp of manhood, his confirmation soon approaching, his eyes are opened to the truth. Life is hard, messy, and open-ended—much like this film—and it must be experienced for oneself, even the bad, in order to cherish what truly matters.

Scott is somewhat of a loner, hanging out with the girl he likes, but who tells him he’s like a brother to her; getting bullied and called names; and babied by his mother who duct tapes every opening of his clothes so as not to contract Lyme disease from a tick. And that worry isn’t unwarranted as Adrianna’s father actually has it. Her family has changed ever since as Charlie Bragg needs medication just to function, and even then he goes from euphoria to unending pain as his body deals with it. He is no longer the man Melissa Bragg married and therefore she starts to stray into the arms of Scott’s stress-heavy father, in just one cross of the families that comes into the open, changing all their lives. That affair coming to light, (even though many of the parties already knew), is what alters Scott forever. It shows the lies all around him, the weakness each person exhibits, and the fact that maybe we all don’t live happily ever after, no matter if we have the big house, the white picket fence, or the chance to be a millionaire at year’s end.

Lymelife is full of nuance and heart; even at its toughest moments, the emotions wrought are real. No matter where each goes to satisfy their heart, the feelings they have for others are unchanging. Just because Adrianna goes after an older boy doesn’t mean she likes him, she may just be trying to make Scott jealous; just because Mickey Bartlett starts to sleep with Melissa doesn’t mean he has stopped loving his wife, nor that he wants to abandon his children, even if he may have already pushed one too far away to get back; and just because Jimmy Bartlett is in the army, smoking cigarettes and unafraid to beat up his brother’s bullies doesn’t mean he is oblivious to what is going on in his house. Everyone is running away, but just like the quote about the train being heard from anywhere you may be on Long Island, no matter how far you run, the problems that drove you away will still be there.

While the script is very good, as is the directing and cinematography across the board, what really resonate are the performances. This is a pretty high profile cast for a writer/director that only has one film under his belt—starring himself no less. A guy like Alec Baldwin lives for roles such as this: the once lothario, aging businessman who uses his natural charisma to be a success and turn every woman’s head. I thought a line by Adrianna was perfect when she says that he doesn’t need money to attract the ladies, but that even so, Scott shouldn’t try too hard to be like him. And as for the role of this young lady, I was pleasantly surprised with Emma Roberts. While at first she came off a bit amateurish and trying too hard, as the film progressed, she soon filled the character’s shoes with success and breathed some life into her. At the beginning you just think she is a tease and a brat, but once you discover her true feelings and how she knows more about what goes on around her than you may think, you’ll learn that she is just as innocent as Scott, only more experienced at hiding it. I also liked her mother, one of the pieces to the crazed puzzle being constantly moved around her. Cynthia Nixon plays the aging woman as she should: a beaten soul that’s unhappy with her lot in life, looking to move on, but trying too hard. She gets all dolled up to impress the men of the town and does her best to avoid her husband whenever possible.

It is with the spouses and the Barlett boys where the best acting occurs, however. I have never seen Jill Hennessy perform before and I have to say I was impressed. Here is the epitome of suburban housewife trapped in a situation she doesn’t want. Knowing her husband has been sleeping around, and the kind of person who can’t accept the money and comfortable life as compensation, she acts out to get attention from anyone who may be looking. By trying to get her son to see her as fun she in fact makes him believe she is going crazy. As for that son, Scott, Rory Culkin is fantastic. It’s so good to see these younger Culkin boys getting their starts in low-key indie-fare rather than the big budget schlock their brother Macaulay had, the same kind that spiraled his career into oblivion. He is the star here and he handles the responsibility deftly, playing off of some very accomplished actors. His sibling, in the film and real life, is Kieran Culkin’s Jimmy. It is a role that seems simple enough, as does most of the film, until the layers get uncovered and you discover what really makes him tick; how his relationship with his parents affected his decisions in life and decisions in the present.

My favorite role, however, came from Timothy Hutton. His Lyme disease inflicted Charlie Bragg is a startling performance. His confusion and ticks, (no pun intended), craft a unique being that is trying to live his life as it was, despite the fact he can’t. Between hallucinations and the medication, he cannot find work and his love of hunting isn’t safe anymore. He is losing his family from around him and soon sees that young Scott is the only friend he has. This arc is one of the most intriguing in the film and his character’s conclusion one of the most impactful, culling together all his strength. The ending in general is one that definitely hits home by showing each character and where they have rested after all the lies are brought into the open. It is a perfect finale for a very worthwhile film, showing the audience that not everything is black and white; some people make mistakes and we are all flawed. It is what you do with that knowledge that defines who you are and what you are willing to achieve in life and the future.

Lymelife 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½

photography:
[1] Alec Baldwin, Rory Culkin, Kieran Culkin and Jill Hennessy in Screen Media Films’ Lymelife (2009) Copyright © Screen Media Films. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Emma Roberts stars as Adrianna Bragg and Rory Culkin stars as Scott Bartlett in Screen Media Films’ Lymelife (2009) Copyright © Screen Media Films. All Rights Reserved.

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