Reviews

Lymelife

Lymelife features frustrated, confused kids, and frustrated, self-obsessed adults.


Lymelife

Director: Derick Martini
Cast: Alec Baldwin, Rory Culkin, Emma Roberts, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Kieran Culkin
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Screen Media Films
First date: 2008
US Release Date: 2009-04-08 (Limited release)
Website
Trailer

Come fly with me, let's float down to Peru.

In lama land, there's a one-man band

And he'll toot his flute for you.

-- Frank Sinatra, "Come Fly with Me"

As metaphors go, Lyme disease is a good one. Best known for its carrier (ticks), the infection emerged most strikingly in New England during the 1970s, and its precise causes and surefire cures remain elusive. Afflicted during a deer-hunting excursion, Charlie (Timothy Hutton) exhibits classic symptoms: he's perpetually exhausted, depressed, and slow-thinking. His joints ache, he can't work, his wife is angry, believing he is "psychosomatic."

Indeed, when Charlie first appears in Lymelife, he looks terrible: his hair is mussed, his clothes rumpled, his face sweaty. Aiming his rifle at a homemade deer-head target he's pinned to a tree near his Long Island home, he may be imagining a sort of revenge -- the infection, a radio-talk-show doctor helpfully explains at film's start, "technically stems from the blood of the deer." Perhaps he's hoping to recapture his recent past: sick for a year now, Charlie is understandably frustrated by the lack of progress in his treatment, and the collapse of his life because of it. Or maybe he's looking to restock the frozen venison he keeps in his basement locker -- carefully labeled and uneaten.

No matter his motivation, Charlie's appearance seems immediately threatening to his neighbor, 15-year-old Scott (Rory Culkin), who happens to be headed through the woods on his way home. The kid is startled by the shot, of course, just as Charlie is horrified to see Scott: "I told you not to come around here! That could have been your head." He smacks the side of Scott's head for emphasis. "Accidents happen, don't you understand that?"

Scott appreciates that Charlie feels like a walking accident, an example to everyone around him. Or at least his mom does: fearful that her youngest son might also fall prey to a random tick bite, Brenda (Jill Hennessy) duct-tapes his sleeves and pants legs before she'll let him walk through the woods. Her anxiety irritates her husband Mickey (Alec Baldwin), who happened to be sitting next to Charlie in the woods on that fateful day (and is now the object of seemingly irrational but understandable resentment on Charlie's part). As Mickey and Brenda argue loudly over this year's deer hunting, Scott sits outside on the stoop, forlorn and helpless. Mm stands her ground, and dad insists, "I'm not gonna be the one that lets him down."

In fact, he is already letting Scott down, though the boy hasn't quite grasped how. Lymelife goes on to track their coming to terms, Scott's needs and his father's betrayals exposed (for one thing. he's having an affair with Charlie's angry wife, Melissa [Cynthia Nixon]). Scott's is another suburban coming-of-age story, helped along by a visit from his older brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin). A soldier about to be shipped to the Falklands (it's 1979), he harbors longtime rage at Mickey and feels tremendous frustration at his inability to protect his mother or brother. Just so, when he learns a high school bully has smashed in Scott's face, Jimmy roars right over to said bully's house in his muscle car, and proceeds to beat him down royally, Scott watching with a mix of awe, fear, and jealousy. The brothers agree to tell Brenda Scott has only walked into a door.

The schematic other end of Scott's emotional spectrum is embodied by Charlie and Melissa's daughter Adrianna (Emma Roberts). As he sees her, standing by the railroad tracks (next to a conveniently located "Danger" sign), Scott is nearly dumbstruck, desperate for her interest, yet afraid of it as well. For one thing, Adrianna seems endlessly complicated, sad about her dad ("Ever since he got sick, he spends more time with the stupid dead deer [in the freezer] than he does with us") and enthrallingly enigmatic ("They say that no matter where you are on Long Island, you can always hear the train, it's never far enough away"). Unavoidably smitten, Scott practices asking her out, or at pretending he's got something cool to say to say. Posing before his bedroom mirror, Scott is surrounded by Star Wars action figures and a Han Solo poster; even if his hair looks a little like his hero's, Scott can't begin to approximate the requisite swagger or roguish charm. Instead, he sputters, "You know you want this, don't lie." The cool-guy performance ends as soon as his mom calls him to dinner.

Written by director Derick Martini and his brother Steven, Lymelife makes liberal use of such imagery, not to mention an overbearing period soundtrack (usually diegetic, on radios and background dance music) as well as that repeatedly referenced inexplicable infection. "Why me?" moans Melissa. She'd rather he was undone by something regular, "a bus, a robbery, an accident," and can only fume at the mystery of Lyme disease. Mickey is startled to hear her complain of her misfortune, noting that she is not, in fact, the one infected.

Melissa is only the least self-conscious of the many self-obsessing adults in Lymelife. At first mad at his mother's over-protectiveness and embarrassed when she sunbathes on their shingled roof, Scott is more profoundly disturbed by his father's duplicity, his pretend "American Dream" (more metaphors pile up in his successful real estate career and his construction of a big new house for a family that is disintegrating even as he moves in boxes of pictures and bedding). As Brenda finds a way to save herself, her self-realizations are left off-screen, but her sudden shift in affect becomes a manifestation of Scott's growing up. That she, Melissa, and Adrianna serve such allusive and metaphorical purpose is not surprising. But still, it's disappointing.

5

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image