Director    Derick Martini
Starring    Rory Culkin, Alec Baldwin, Jill Hennessey, Emma Roberts, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon
Release    8 APR (US) 2 JUL (UK)    Certificate 15
3 stars


30th June 2010

Gervais and Merchant had a crack at it in Cemetery Junction, now director Derick Martini is rifling through the musty brown corduroy of 1970s nostalgia and hanging it out on the line for a good airing.

So to Long Island suburbia we go with teenager Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin). To call him a loser would be a bit harsh, but he isn't one of life's winners. You know the score; the school bullies give him a hard time, he has no luck with the girls, he has questionable taste in jumpers.

[gallery]Times are tough at home for Scott, despite having Alec Baldwin for a dad. Dad Mickey is fighting with mum Brenda (Jill Hennessey). She hankers after her former life in Queens, he hankers after his colleague and mother of Scott's love interest, Melissa (Cynthia Nixon). Melissa is stuck with husband Charlie (Timothy Hutton) who spends his days hiding in a cellar after catching Lyme disease. Their cynical daughter Adrianna (Emma Roberts) is the subject of Scott's teenage yearnings. Two interlinked dysfunctional families spiral towards disintegration - comparisons with American Beauty are inevitable. "The American dream sucks," shouts the tagline. Right on.

Rory Culkin (kid brother of Macaulay) heads up the cast as Scott, but his screen presence in this movie is pretty soggy. Instead of being the lynchpin that holds the film together, he's frequently overshadowed by his co-stars, not least his brother Kieran Culkin, who is terrific as hot-headed big bro Jimmy. The natural rapport between the two brothers really comes across on screen though.

Cynthia Nixon shines as desperate housewife Melissa, making Lymelife a smart move for her post-SATC, avoiding the romcom rut. Then there's Alec Baldwin. He's the catalyst, the disruptive force, almost the villain of the piece, though Martini is careful to ensure that nothing is so black and white in this film. Timothy Hutton's depiction of Charlie, a man broken beyond repair, is the outstanding performance of the film.

This is not the indie coming-of-age flick it would have you believe. It's an intelligent, grown-up film for grown-ups and by far the most interesting elements of the film revolve around the adult characters. It's a film about being let down, by life, by people; it's about learning how to cope and how to appreciate the good stuff.

But instead of having the courage of his convictions and maintaining the subtle tone and steady pacing throughout, Martini throws in an ending that jars with the rest of the movie. It is not an assured film. It hints at great things without fully exploring them - the plot strand around the outbreak of Lyme disease for instance is not given room to develop. The ensemble cast make Lymelife a solid film, but its lack of confidence lets it down - it never stretches itself and never fully reaches its potential.

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