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DVD Review: ‘Lymelife’ is the Same Old Story

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CHICAGO – Only a few short weeks ago, I sat through the two-hour shrug-fest that is Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” and lamented how so many of the film’s interactions between parents and the younger generation were played for cartoonish laughs instead of striving for the haunting poignancy of the director’s 1997 family drama “The Ice Storm.” Well, upon viewing Derick Martini’s “Lymelife,” I determined that the cliché is true: Be careful what you wish for.

HollywoodChicago.com DVD Rating: 2.0/5.0
DVD Rating: 2.0/5.0

Look at Lee’s film and Martini’s back to back, and you’ll note that their basic outlines are practically one and the same: In the 1970s, somewhere in the eastern United States, two married people have an affair, while the teenage son of one adulterer and the teenage daughter of the other begin to explore their own sexuality and indulge in the occasional drug. Mom and Dad probably have a good idea of what their kids are up to, but they don’t bother with any disciplinary actions. After all, how can a man chastise a boy when what the man is doing is much worse by comparison?

Lymelife was released on DVD on September 22nd, 2009.
Lymelife was released on DVD on September 22nd, 2009.
Photo credit: Screen Media

Both films also give the cheating husband two children; one who is older and spends most of his time away from the unhappy household, and a younger child who will probably remain stuck in the dysfunctional environment until college provides an escape.

In the case of “Lymelife”, the younger sibling is Scott (Rory Culkin), a sad and awkward kid whose misfortunes include getting beaten up in front of the girl he can’t stop thinking about. Scott still worships his father, a big-shot real estate developer who spends more time at the office than at home. But older brother Jim (Kieran Culkin) has been off in the Army and developed an outsider’s take on his family that doesn’t disregard his pop’s faults. Their father (a reliably slimy and charming Alec Baldwin) isn’t doing much to hide his philandering with the mother of Scott’s female friend (Cynthia Nixon) and acts as if the material wealth he provides for his wife somehow makes up for neglecting and embarrassing his long-suffering spouse.

There is, of course, some plot-related details that separate Martini’s film from Lee’s, but the two most substantive differences pertain to the appeal of the movies’ young protagonists and the degree to which every character is likely to be forever changed by what we see onscreen.

Lymelife was released on DVD on September 22nd, 2009.
Lymelife was released on DVD on September 22nd, 2009.
Photo credit: Screen Media

In role after role in movies like “You Can Count on Me” and “Mean Creek,” Rory Culkin showed an ability to make us believe that the boys he was portraying understood much more than would be expected at a given age. Here, though, he’s saddled with a character who can’t read situations well, rarely speaks and usually says the wrong thing when he does. It isn’t just that Scott becomes nervously tongue-tied in front of an attractive schoolmate. It’s that, rather than being capable of figuring it out for himself, he has to be told by his girlfriend that his father has had sex with someone in the next room. It’s that he brags to his mother about his father’s professional successes while being totally oblivious to her emotional discomfort. It’s not a case of denial. It’s naivete bordering on stupidity.

Granted, many of us probably weren’t the brightest of bulbs at Scott’s age, but the filmmakers don’t do him any favors by also making him dull. Unlike Jim, Scott doesn’t appear to be a charismatic person whose true identity will emerge once he gets out of that house. He’s a plain, puberty-stricken teen with a tendency to brag about sex he hasn’t had and drugs he hasn’t taken. Maybe a longer cut of the film contained scenes that could’ve proven me wrong, but the many deleted segments available on DVD certainly don’t do it.

The main character’s shortcomings might not have mattered so much if the director and screenwriters had found something new to say about marriage, parenthood or adolescence, or at least a more eloquent way of communicating old ideas. Martini and his brother Steven based some of the screenplay on their childhoods, and if they experienced the same unpleasantness as Scott, I hope they found the process of making the movie therapeutic. Still, my guess is that the lessons learned in this story (that some parents are cheaters, that some marriages are close to loveless, and that being an adult can be tough) will already be familiar to those who watch it. If not, there are plenty of better films that say the same things.

‘Lymelife’ is released by Screen Media Home Video and stars Alec Baldwin, Rory Culkin, Kieran Culkin, Jill Hennessey, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, and Emma Roberts. It was written by Derick and Steven Martini and directed by Derick Martini. The film was released on DVD on September 22nd, 2009. It is rated R.

Staff Writer

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