Dir. Derick Martini, US, 2008, 93 minutes
Lymelife is a coming-of-age story that takes another look at the darker side of suburban paradise: Long Island in the 1970’s, where Lyme Disease spread by local insects and carried by its picturesque deer is the new plague, and families who thought they’d finally ‘made it’ are afraid of their own backyards.
Derick Martini’s tender and witty first feature has a cast that should give it an advantage over other independent comedies vying for the US audience. The Long Island setting won’t spark much interest internationally, although home video could be strong with the rise of the film’s young stars.
Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin), 15, is a sensitive kid in a Long Island suburb. His father, Mickey (Baldwin) is making a killing in local real estate and sleeping with neighbor Melissa Bragg (Nixon), whose unemployed husband, Charlie (Hutton) is exhibiting some of the dementia that comes with Lyme Disease. Scott has always had a crush on their seductive young daughter, Adrianna (Roberts), who is finally returning some of his affections.
Scott’s mother, Brenda (Hennessy), fears that her son might catch the dreaded Lyme Disease, and sees that her marriage to philandering Mickey is on the rocks. Emotions erupt around Thanksgiving, when Scott’s brother, Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) visits on leave from the army.
A Long Islander himself, Derick Martini’s script, co-written with brother Steven Martini, plays with the paranoia of families for whom the new plague is a glitch in Shangri-la.
It’s just one more wrinkle in the malaise afflicting Scott, who is running from bullies as well as from the deer. The Martinis’ satire contrasts his budding romance with Adrianna with the neurotic behaviour of their parents.
Martini brings deft direction to the ensemble comedy, which echoes The Ice Storm, and Michael Cuesta’s L. I. E. and Twelve and Holding.
Culkin and Roberts hit the right balance of savviness and clumsiness as teenagers who are smart enough to see what their parents try to conceal. Both show depth and sure comic instincts, thanks to a script by writers who know the territory first-hand. They avoid the coy Sundance-style cuteness so often found in comedies about teenagers learning how dumb their parents can be.
Baldwin, another Long Islander, has a feel for the oafish abrasiveness of the nouveau riche gentry. He plays to type, but it’s the right type here. Hutton is comic and vulnerable as the cuckolded husband, with his rifle at the ready if the deer approach.
As Melissa, Cynthia Nixon finds a nasty reptilian look for the suburban villain, a schemer who steals another woman’s husband once she loses interest in her own. It’s a wicked performance.
DP Frank Godwin gives the film the darkening feel of late November, heightening apprehensions about families gathering for Thanksgiving, and cutting away to mock-horror close-ups of the silent deer browsing outside.
Cappa De Fina Films
El Dorado Pictures
William Morris Independent
+ 1 310 859 4000
Barbara De Fina