One of the issues you often run into with films made by first time directors is a film that never quite comes together. Lymelife, written and directed by Derick and Steven Martini, does quite a bit right but also falls into a few traps that more seasoned directors could have avoided. It’s not a bad film, however it’s pretty uneven. That’s not to say I’m calling this one a pass. There’s an awful lot happening here, and although some might have grown tired of the sub-genre of quirky little suburban independent films, it’s still worth a look.
The film centers around two dysfunctional families. The Bartlett’s are doing well, at least from the outside looking in. Mickey (Alec Baldwin), the family’s breadwinner, is the envy of everyone else except perhaps his wife (Jill Hennessy) who seems to breathe a passive-aggressive hatred that it turns out is more than warranted.
The younger of their two sons, Scott (Rory Culkin) has his own issues to deal with including his growing feelings for his longtime friend Adrianna (Emma Roberts), bullies at school, the discovery of his father’s infidelity, and his mother’s over-protective streak which includes him ductaping every inch of him before allowing him out in the woods. Adrianna’s home life is no better with her father’s (Timothy Hutton) uncertain mental state due to Lyme Disease and her mother’s (Cynthia Nixon) late nights working with Mickey.
You’ve seen films like this before, sometimes done better and sometimes worse. The cover is pulled back to reveal the darkness behind the sleepy suburban life. Thankfully the Martini’s stay out of the realm of cliche when dealing with these issues. There are some incredible moments in this film such as Scott’s inevitable overreaction at school to his bully. When dealing with the harshness of the situations the filmmakers usual hit their mark, but when dealing with the emotional fall-out of those same situations the film, at times, struggles.
The directors fail at times by not trusting their own material and not having the experience to know when to end a scene and when to stay with it for dramatic effect. Several moments over the course of the film are slightly damaged (much like these characters) simply because the director didn’t know when to say cut. Sometimes less is more.
It’s not a great film but Alec Baldwin (whom I’ve often said I’d watching reading the telephone book) is terrific, Emma Roberts is charming, the Culkin boys hold their own, and Timothy Hutton has a nice turn as the eccentric neighbor. Does it ever all come together? At times. The film might have been much more successful if the filmmakers had marginalized the quirkiness of the film and dealt with the harsher realities of the situation which they seem to have a better feel for.
It’s not a must see, but it is worth a look. And one thing the film did for me was increase my appreciation for Sophia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, which also centers around a time period piece about the lives of teens in the suburbs (and also a film by a first time director). If you haven’t seen that film I’d heartily recommend it, and if you have and you enjoy movies of this type, and have nothing better to do, you might, might want to give Lymelife a try.