Movie Review: Lymelife
Rating: R (for language, some sexual content, violence, and drug use)
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: September 8, 2008
Directed by: Derick Martini
Stars: 3 out of 5
Suburbia is the root of that middle-class American dream. Get a good job, move to the suburbs, start a family, and have it all-that's the dream, right? So how is it that so many families seem to get it all wrong? One such family is the focus of Derick Martini's 1970s period piece "Lymelife." The focus of the movie isn't on Lyme disease itself; rather, it focuses on how something so little can ultimately change or destroy a person's concept of life and happiness.
In the style of "American Beauty" and "The Ice Storm," Martini's film looks at how disaffected, jaded, middle-class parents inevitably screw up their family lives. From adultery to brooding on the inevitable, almost no parent in this movie seems to want to be a grown-up-they're so concerned with fulfilling their own selfish, childish desires that the actual children suffer and have to learn how to cope with growing up on their own.
Young Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) is faced with a crumbling family while he tries his best to woo the girl next door, Arianna Bragg (Emma Roberts). His hotshot Realtor dad, Mickey (Alec Baldwin), may be bringing home the bacon, but he's also cavorting with Arianna's mother, Melissa (Cynthia Nixon). Just like the promising model homes Mickey shows to his customers, his life is all a façade-showing a shiny veneer of respectability, hiding the grimy, imperfect reality underneath.
Jimmy, Scott's older brother (Kieran Culkin), is old enough to realize that he needs to escape any way that he can. Their mother, Brenda (Jill Hennessey) knows everything about Mickey's affair, and it's a testament to either her inner strength or her own foolhardy belief in that "perfect" American dream that she puts on a brave face every day and pretends that her marriage isn't a shambles. The audience is left to wonder if she's pretending more for the sake of her children or for her own sanity.
Arianna's family is rotting, too, and not just from Melissa's affair with Mickey. Husband and father Charlie (Timothy Hutton) is slowly wasting away from Lyme disease. Gradually, he loses more and more of himself as the story progresses, sinking deeper into his own personal, selfish abyss. At the same time, he seems to be the only person who understands that it's the little things that make or break one's happiness. He even says, "Isn't it amazing that your whole life can be changed by a bug the size of a pimple on your ass?" He knows the truth of life, but he uses that knowledge as an excuse to burrow into himself and not have to face his painful reality.
Scott's attempt at creating a romantic connection with Arianna is obviously meant to be a counterpoint to all of the misery in the adult's lives. He is the closest thing the story has to an optimist, quietly hoping against hope that Arianna will see him as a viable option. For much of the story, however, she spends her time with boys who are more "mature." Surely, she's seeking a fraction of maturity in her own romantic life that is, without a doubt, missing from her parents' lives. It doesn't stop Scott from forlornly hoping, though.
Rory Culkin's performance as Scott is clearly the linchpin of the film. Scott is the only one left with any sort of belief in the possibility of something good happening to him, even though his daily life is filled with family strife. Culkin manages to make Scott unbelievably sad but also oddly hopeful, even if it is in a melancholy way. The audience also comes to hope that maybe-just maybe-Scott can catch a break and make something good out of his life, away from everything that's keeping him down.
Director Derick Martini (who also cowrote the film with his brother, Steven) brings drama and nuance to this tale of barely concealed middle-class desperation. He sometimes focuses the camera on something unexpected, but it ends up adding a surprisingly subtle extra layer of meaning to the story. A close-up of Scott's tear-streaked face shows the tiny bits of moisture trapped on his eyelashes, once again showing how it's the little things that can have the biggest impact. When the camera focuses on the tiny model houses with little plastic people inside the real-estate office, the audience comes to realize just how fake everything about suburbia truly is.
"Lymelife" shows the audience that, simply put, the American dream is flawed at best and horrifyingly damaging at worst.