Haven't Derick and Steve Martini ever heard of Wikipedia? A couple of Web searches might've made their "didn't living in the suburbs in the '70s suck?" indie flick historically accurate. While Lymelife seems to be on Long Island in 1979 (we're shown TV footage of Iranians burning Jimmy Carter in effigy among other hints), it also makes dramatic hay of the Falklands War (1982). The broth ers' fuzzy sense of chronology betrays their age (they were in kindergarten at the time) and the arbitrariness of their choice. It's not enough to simply set your working-class take on The Ice Storm in the '70s, there needs to be a reason, otherwise it's the equivalent of generational name-dropping.
Rory Culkin is Scott, the simultaneously innocent and brooding Caulfield-esque son of a philandering real estate developer (Alec Baldwin) and his stoic but unhappy wife (Jill Hennessey). While his parents' marriage slowly disintegrates, Scott seeks the company of Adrianna (the wonderful Emma Roberts), the gorgeous and wise-beyond-her-years neighbor he's always had a crush on. Little does he know that her mom (Cynthia Nixon) is boning his dad, while Adrianna's sweaty pop (Timothy Hutton) spends his days hiding in the basement, incapacitated by Lyme disease. Things go the way you might expect: Slow, angry family breakdowns, angst-ridden coming-of-age urges and the inevitable gestures toward emotional reconciliation. While there are lots of moment-to-moment truths here, the parts are much greater than the predictable whole.
As a view of desperate, middle-class Catholics who traded the city's outer neighborhoods for serene but impersonal suburbs, the Martini brothers, who co-wrote the script, do a good job of capturing people overwhelmed by disconnection. Unfortunately, lingering shots of real estate models, with their plastic figures and lifeless landscapes, are an all-too obvious visual metaphor, signaling director Derrick's inexperience.
More effective is how the script uses Hutton's addled depression and simmering rage to embody spiritual detachment. It's a good metaphor but hardly enough to hang a movie on. And that's Lymelife's problem; it's all metaphors and moments. All the knowing details and authentic dialogue in the world can't mask a narrative that relies on family clichés and a plodding sense of drama.
The high-profile cast is uniformly good, but one has to wonder: What attracted them to the project in the first place? It's not as though this topic hasn't been mined by numerous and better films. Baldwin is masterful as the sentimental asshole (a role he can and has played in his sleep); Culkin is engaging; Hennessey is solid; and Nixon is appropriately craven as an ambitious suburban harpy. Their characters are more like types than people. On the other hand, Hutton, stalking around in pajamas and a hunting rifle, is so good in his underwritten role he threatens to blow a hole in the film. The same can be said of Kieran Culkin, who shows up as Scott's volatile older military brother and brings with him an authentic vividness that capitalizes on his real-life relationship with brother Rory.
Lymelife is the kind of watchable talent-filled, "small" film that festivals such as Sundance go gaga over. It also suffers from that familiar Sundance stench, sporting a story of suburban dysfunction that has nothing unique to say and no compelling reason to exist.
Showing at the Landmark Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].