First time Director Derick Martini had a million and a half dollar budget, 22 days to shoot, and Alec Baldwin to contend with... for this alone the man deserves an Oscar. Even beyond that, we in attendance at the Q&A with Martini and Baldwin were treated to some of their stories from financing hell, including their "business meeting" deep in Pennsylvania with a Queue tip entrepreneur, who backed out on his million dollar check last minute. Alec's response, "We poked his eyes out with some queue tips." But somehow, through all the scheduling conflicts, Martini's panic attacks, and an unfortunate situation with pot brownies, the film came together beautifully. Written by Derick and his brother Steven (who also composed the score), Lymelife is a personal story depicting both real and fictionalized events from their childhood growing up in Long Island. Rory, the youngest Culkin, leads the cast quietly with his sad blue eyes (one of Martini's favorite things to shoot) as Scott. Baldwin described Rory as, "a blank canvas, both onscreen and in real life." This allowed for the audience to project onto him whatever they wanted to see. Despite my initial concern that his opaqueness wouldn't be strong enough to hold the film together, Rory truly impressed me and had a strong unexpected likability. Through Culkin's fresh appeal and Baldwin's star quality/powerhouse performance, Lymelife makes it way to being one of my favorite films of '09 yet.
The story, set in '70's, follows Star Wars obsessed Scott, who has been infatuated with neighbor and teen dream Adrianna (Emma Roberts), since he was 8. Now as he borders on becoming a man, his fantasies start to get the better of him and their platonic relationship begins to escalate. Due to a Lymes Disease outbreak, paranoia begins to spread through the area, primarily due to the diagnosis of Adrianna's father, Charlie (played by Timothy Hutton). Hutton stalks the screen in a way we've never seen him before, disheveled, manic and terrifying, portraying a man whose lost everything, however we're not quite sure to what degree he cares about this loss. Due to Charlie's illness, wife Melissa (Cynthia Nixon) has been forced to go out and work for Scott's father, Mickey (Baldwin). As is expected, their work relationship transgresses into a sexual one. Scott's mother, Brenda (Jill Hennessy) spends her mornings taping around the openings of his clothes in an attempt to guard against ticks, and spends her nights degraded by a adulterous husband, whose American Dream of becoming a millionaire is rapidly picking up speed. To top it all off, Scott's older brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) returns home for a visit from the army, revealing the deep sited issues that have been plaguing the family for years, and becoming the catalyst for finally addressing them. There is very little plot to speak of, but this film is about moments and characters, making plot secondary and considerably less important. You become invested in these people because of their relatability and once meeting Martini, I trusted him implicitly to do right by the story and the audience. With the exception of Nixon, all of the performances are outstanding, showing new depth and possibility for newcomers Rory and Emma, renewing interest in talented Kieran, and reminding us just how damn talented Baldwin and Hutton are.
The pacing is beautiful and tension filled with only a few minor missteps Martini might have avoided with more experience under his belt (most notably the downward spiral of Scott's mom is too quick), overall the film has a clear vision and direction that come through. Baldwin made a clear point of telling that audience that over the span of his long and often rocky career, he's met plenty of directors who've made no difference in the film or his life. But when he met Martini he instantly felt a connection (and not just because they both have younger brothers named Steven). "Derick is special" he said, "and I think that comes through in the film." The family dynamic feels so close to home, it's a step away from reality t.v., not to mention the painfully truthful look at first love and all its awkward entanglements. Scott and Adrianna's entertaining and innocent attempt at romance is counteracted by the parent's disintegrated relationships. Even when faced with two examples of failure, the kids somehow remain optimistic about their chances at love.
Though the humor wasn't quite as biting, Lymelife reminded me a lot of Igby Goes Down (and not just because it had middle Culkin in it). Both stories cover a typical American problem, the disenchantment of children with their parents. "With kids, the last thing you lose is their respect" says Baldwin, and this film villainizes the parents as responsible for their disillusionment. The most explosive scene in the film between Baldwin and Hennessy is jaw droppingly brilliant. Baldwin's character Mickey blatantly throws his affairs in the face of his wife and family, he neglects to realize that these actions may lose him his children. It's too late for him to win back Jimmy having pushed him too far for too long, but by the end of the film, Mickey makes an earnest attempt at reclaiming his fatherly role with Scott. While I am not one of them, this is something that so many kids go through with their parents, and whether they want it to or not, these events shape them into the relationship phobic, emotionally crippled people that populate our society today. Cynical Martini knows this and yet he opted for optimism, and for this I thank him. He somehow manages to keep hope alive, even when it seems lost.
Though we're left with an ambiguously dark ending (there were originally two endings, and for anyone who's already seen the film I'd be happy to talk to you about them both), the film makes no qualms about it's point. It's not about the end but about moments. First love, first encounter with family decay, first fist fight, first time getting high, and first Lymes Disease break out, these are what matter. Martini's job isn't to belabor these points, but to bring us back to our own first moments. For a directorial debut, this is more than admirable, this is phenomenal. I loved every moment and look forward to Martini making more firsts.
Short and Sweet
70's movie references, first love, Lymes Disease and Alec Baldwin. What more could you want? One of the best movies of '09 to date!
In addition, I haven't been to a Q&A that entertaining in a long time. For more about it feel free to contact me!
"You turning down a piece of ass?"
- Charlie Bragg
"Is it Syphilis?"
"Acting is like sex. When I was young I would do it with anybody."