'Lymelife' ticks off one cliche after another
Derick and Steven Martini once had a childhood, and now, courtesy of their first movie, we are prisoners of its excruciating ordinariness. For no apparent reason, the brothers have called the film "Lymelife" - one character may have Lyme disease, but that's hardly an excuse - and set the story in 1979. Derick directed "Lymelife"; Steven composed the music (a lot of plucked strings); both wrote and edited.
One advantage of fictionalizing your life is the creative license to make it interesting to the rest of us. The Martinis' film, instead, evokes other movies without finding its own reason to be. Chiefly, it feels as if the brothers decided to combine the suburban Watergate-era angst of "The Ice Storm" and the jarring nuclear-family meltdowns in "The Squid and the Whale," both far superior movies.
The story centers on the Bartletts and the Braggs, two Long Island households whose libidos and mood swings are intertwined and whose houses are connected by a forest where deer are hunted. Jimmy Bartlett (Rory Culkin) lusts for Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts), who says all the right, suggestive things. His father (Alec Baldwin), a real estate developer, is sleeping with her mother (Cynthia Nixon), who also works with Mr. Bartlett. Mrs. Bartlett (Jill Hennessy) frowns, and sickly Mr. Bragg (Timothy Hutton) wallows - for he is living the titular Lyme life. The Bartletts' older son (Kieran Culkin) returns home from military duty before being shipped out again.
"Lymelife" uses the powdered movie mix they appear to be handing out at the Sundance Institute, where the film was workshopped and injected with the clichés that make such a project fit for acceptance at the festival, where it played in January.
Like so many of these farm-raised films, this one looks polished, but takes no risks, offers no surprises, and contains a final sequence that's laughable for its lack of courage. There is sex, screaming, a few psychotic beatings, and several scenes that end with a punch line. A gun is even brandished, ridiculously, as we're chaperoned to a date with would-be tragedy. It's all a pose, though - a dramatic exercise rather than drama itself. Here and there, Derick Martini shows flashes of talent, if not as a screenwriter then as a director of actors. Everybody is allowed room to emote. Baldwin, Nixon, and Rory Culkin almost succeed in giving the movie some genuine human interest. Baldwin, especially, makes the film seem stronger and deeper than it is.
What you feel from all this cracking up and breaking down is not the excitement of a new filmmaker with something urgent to say. It's the sinking feeling that the Martinis are content to use childhood memories merely as steppingstones to make that next movie.