Movie Review: Lymelife
By Tom Macy
March 30, 2009
The actors, clearly being encouraged to improvise, seem to be confused about what kind of film they're in, giving scenes a staged quality. Clearly there was supposed to be more a comedic element than there was. Upon watching the trailer, after I saw the film, I found that comedy was firmly established, suggesting that the script read much funnier than it plays. Curiously, though, lines that rang false in the film were much funnier in the trailer, leaving me to think some adjustments on pacing may do this film some a world of good. Too late now, I guess.
Still, while it may lack the zip that made some of its brethren so irresistible (I'm thinking specifically of Ellen Page), Lymelife is an admirably performed and adequately crafted installment in this familiar genre. However, the one major deviation from that mold is the film's biggest detriment (I've always said I'll take a truthful cliché over contrived originality any day). The storyline involving Timothy Hutton's character is meant to tie the film together, serving as the central theme. Representing, of all things, the threat of Lyme Disease (in the days before it was treatable), he is to be a constant reminder of mortality hovering over the characters, "enlightened" by his illness and the sole voice of reason. But instead, the whole thing is just a ridiculous plot device. Hutton and the disease don't seem to have any effect on the characters or their actions and he remains on the periphery. Whenever they do resurface, it's basically to remind us of their presence. The film would have worked better if Hutton's character was removed completely and it was just called "Life". Sure, then it would be complete carbon copy of every other dysfunctional family indie ever made but at least you'd be saved from the preposterous ending - which is completely absurd.
The most rewarding takeaway is the fine performance given by Rory Culkin. With an easygoing simplicity that has transferred nicely from his childhood roles (I still think he's great in Signs) he proves, along with his brother Kieran, that the Culkin family circus of the early '90s has produced some solid talent. Speaking of Kieran, here he gets a chance to play the military alpha male, a role he pulls off but is not particularly right for. Whenever he's asked to be the tough guy, there's just a slight sense of reaching. He's much better in roles like the one he played in 2002's Igby Goes Down, which was a similar announcement to the world that he actually could act.
Undoubtedly, the slews of Andersonian (is that obnoxious sounding?) films I've seen over the past decade have informed my judgment of this film. If I weren't constantly being reminded of The Ice Storm, I possibly would've enjoyed it more. For sure, given today's cinematic landscape you could do much worse. For my money, though, leaving the theater with the urge to rewatch The Squid and the Whale and check IMDb for the brothers Culkin means this one missed the mark. Perhaps if I had Timothy Hutton's illness-aided clarity, I could derive more substance from Lymelife, but being one of the unenlightened, it will have to remain mystery.