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Lymelife

a film by Derick Martini

Lymelife, the 1979/80 Long Island set familial dramedy about everything from marital infidelity to unrequited teenage love to the breakdown of the American dream to the semi-titular Lyme disease, may be a bit overcooked at times - the image of a dropped monopoly game on the family's linoleum kitchen floor as metaphor for that same said breakdown of the American dream is a bit hit-you-over-the-head obvious - but it stills plays out as a daring, darting look at the hazards of suburbia and that still aforementioned breakdown of the American dream.

With inevitable allusions to both the subtly intense The Ice Storm and the overly angsty American Beauty, Lymelife ripples near the edge of the raw power that was the former without ever falling prey to the cloying pretentiousness that was the latter. Also linked both thematically and spiritually to David Gordon Green's Snow Angels (even down to the catharsis-free gunshot climax), Derick Martini has created, in his directorial debut, a film whose subject matter verges on the cliche-addled but manages to keep from falling - at least mostly so - into the trap that has befallen many a potential good film on the (here we go again) breakdown of the American dream. It may not hold the stormic power that is the rightly named aforementioned Ang Lee indie, but Lymelife holds together with a remarkable tenacity despite its sometimes pedestrian "indie-hip" manner.

Starring Alec Baldwin as a snarky pompous philandering contractor, Jill Hennessey as his lonely wife from the dead ends of Queens ("you can take the girl out of Queens" Baldwin's faultfinding husband sidemouths during one of a myriad of arguments) and Rory and Kieran Culkin as their jaded children - the eldest of which is escaping this suburban prison by enlisting in the army just to get away. The film also stars Timothy Hutton as a Lyme diseased deer hunter on the verge of a complete mental breakdown, Cynthia Nixon as his unfaithful wife and Emma Roberts as their cocktease fifteen year old who is the lifelong crush of classmate Rory Culkin "I look at you like a little brother" she not-so-innocently teases him).

The film is well acted from every direction - Baldwin and Hutton are at the top of their game here, Nixon and Hennessey are explosively nuanced - but it is the Culkin frères who run away with the show. Genuinely sweet and simple, these brothers playing brothers (I suppose these are roles they should be able to do in their sleep) are the psychological epicenter of this Long Island meltdown. They prove themselves as strong capable performers here in turns that hold virtually not a single false note to them. And it is not just these performances that hold true. Though much does come around to a satisfactory closure, much is left undone and unsaid and ultimately unanswered and therefore with a more realistic tone to its uninevitability. Like I said before, it is about the breakdown of the American dream. Even the tagline is "The American Dream Sucks". In sum, perhaps it is a bit too heavy-handed at times, and a bit to "indie-hip" for its own good, but Lymelife still hands in a worthy filmic performance, thanks mainly to these same said performances. [05/23/09]

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