By Brian Orndorf
“Lymelife” is certainly an impassioned motion picture. However, it’s not exactly a revolutionary one, guiding the viewer back into the cancerous heart of suburbia, circa the hazy, crazy 1970s. Brought lucidly to life by director Derick Martini, “Lymelife” suffers from a case of the blahs reaching from story to performance that holds it back from becoming the truly soulful, penetrating experience it aspires to be.
Growing up on the fringe of a burgeoning upscale Long Island housing development, teenaged Scott (Rory Culkin) can only bear silent witness to the chaos around him. With his father (Alec Baldwin) cheating on his mother (Jill Hennessy) with a co-worker (Cynthia Nixon), his conflicted older brother (Kieran Culkin) on break from his controversial military duty, and his object of desire (Emma Roberts) preferring the comfort of older boys while her father (Timothy Hutton) suffers from the ravages of Lyme disease, Scott internalizes his pain, trying to grow up as fast as possible to escape the punishing confines of his community.
As predictable as “Lymelife” is, Martini at least attempts to introduce some visual personality into his debut feature. A rare low-budget production shot on film, “Lymelife” looks fantastic, capturing the chilly Long Island air, bringing out the autumnal colors, and isolating the characters with measured anamorphic framing. The picture has a distinct visual thumbprint about it that also includes specifically emotive editing patterns, blending into a feature that holds attention superficially through exemplary technical achievements.
Dramatically, “Lymelife” doesn’t hold much water. To cry about Martini’s lackluster story is missing the point; the real challenge of the picture is watching the director reanimate these clichÃ©s. Scott’s coming of age arc is handled roughly, staged as an after school special with R-rated ornamentation. Part of the problem is Culkin’s sullen, lifeless performance, which feels more consumed with period costume and hair than the careful pronunciation of adolescent frustration. Martini’s shortcuts in depiction also hurt the intended spiritual effect, boiling down the character to a highlight reel of teen angst (drinking, sex, and daddy are all covered) without any chance for the experiences to credibly breathe.
“Lymelife” can be incredibly suffocating at times, especially with a demanding ensemble to take care of and only 90 minutes of screen time to arrange the puzzle pieces. Sections are missing from the plot, but the adults hit their bullet points memorably, especially Hennessy, who finds a few captivating notes to work with as the pushover mother figure. Baldwin also scores highly, though with his Long Island background, I’m sure transmitting a depiction of an emotionally stunted father wasn’t too much of a stretch.
Character driven, “Lymelife” can only get so far before the familiarity of the film crushes the life out of it. Martini attempts to manufacture a semblance of suspense with some last-minute gunplay, but it’s awkward and transparent, inviting more confusion than closure. “Lymelife” is an attractive indie film package, but a desperately routine one that shock value cannot salvage.