ONLINE EXCLUSIVE – The dissolution of the American Dream

Coming-of-age drama too quirky to truly affect

Quirky-yet-touching coming-of-age dramas that dwell in unraveling the holiest of grails the American Dream are a genre unto themselves. Think The Ice Storm and American Beauty where neighbourhoods served as middle-class emotional war zones depicting picture-perfect houses full of fractured families. Lymelife strives to claim its places amongst the masters of suburban ennui but it cranks the quirk up too far past believable to be truly affecting.

Set in the late 1970s the film takes its title from the hysteria surrounding Lyme disease an unusual but interesting plot point that co-writers Steven and Derick Martini wring dry. The disease becomes a heavy-handed metaphor for the dissolution of innocence helplessness of men and the powerlessness of women. Fifteen-year-old Scott Bartlett (an absolutely wonderful and wounded Rory Culkin) is a sweet wisp of teenage longing: desperately in love with the Lolita-esque Adriana (Emma Roberts) bullied for being a rich kid and at odds with his over-protective mother Brenda (a gutsy performance by Jill Hennessy).

Scott also has to contend with the other disastrous grownups who populate his little world. His father Mickey (co-producer Alec Baldwin) is a gruff workaholic whose eye (and hands) wander over to employee and next-door neighbour Melissa Bragg (Cynthia Nixon) Adriana’s mother. And then there’s Charlie Bragg (a bloated and sad-eyed Timothy Hutton) whose Lyme disease has sent his life spiraling out of control. Out of work and severely depressed the only thing he loves to do is hunt. With a large rifle. It’s not a subtle set-up by any means.

Lymelife plays like a series of vignettes — a year in the life of these two families — and some scenes are gut-wrenchingly effective with strong performances by key cast members. Hennessy makes incredibly wise decisions when Brenda quietly acknowledges Mickey’s infidelity in front of the entire town. Rory Culkin is never better than when he’s in a scene featuring his real-life brother Kieran Culkin who plays Scott’s older brother Jimmy. It’s telling that these scenes of brotherly love or interaction as scripted by the Martini brothers are Lymelife’s most natural.

The Martini brothers who also served as director (Steven) and producer and composer (Derick) have admitted that the script is loosely based on their own childhood and it’s obvious that this was a labour of (perhaps too much) love. A firmer editing eye would have corralled the wilder aspects of this film that dilute the honesty and impact Lymelife would have had in more detached hands.