"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 clichés. 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.
The anamorphic widescreen (2.40:1 aspect ratio) presentation for "Lymelife" maintains the seasonal glaze of the cinematography, but suffers from EE issues throughout the film. Detail is retained along with the flashy retro colors of the production design, coming off more confident during frosty outdoor sequences. Skintones read more pink than apple-cheeked, but work within the intent of the picture.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is primarily concerned with keeping dialogue front and focused, and it works quite well, with every dramatic turn easy to understand. Soundtrack selections bring depth to the track, creating a dreamy ambiance of suburban decay. The mix is simple, which suits the limited reach of the budget. A 2.0 track is also available.
Spanish subtitles are offered.
The feature-length commentary from writer/director Derick Martini and actor Rory Culkin is a tremendously exasperating experience, due to the invasive sound level of the film during the discussion. It's bad enough that Martini and Culkin barely raise their voices above a whisper during the track, but the dialogue constantly steamrolls over their thoughts. It's impossible to endure. The talent seems kindly and informed, but who cares when you have to fight to hear them.
"Alternate Ending" (19:47) changes the fate of one character and alters the tone of the movie. For spoiler reasons, I will leave the explanation there. It can be viewed with or without barely discernable commentary from Martini and Culkin.
"Deleted Scenes" (7:40) offer more domestic woe for the characters, including needed development of subplots that feel a little thin in the finished picture. Some good scraps here. They can be viewed with or without commentary from Martini and Culkin.
A Theatrical Trailer has not been included.
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.