Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

With Lymelife, first-time director Derick Martini and his co writer brother Steven, boldly stride into a genre omnipresent in modern American cinema - let's call it the "disintegration of the white middle class American family" genre. That doesn't mean Lymelife doesn't have anything to offer, quite the opposite, but viewers sitting down for this movie can be forgiven for thinking of Ang Lee's The Ice Storm or Noah Baumbach's The Squid And The Whale instead - in fact, take your pick from any one of those types of movies in which everyone is miserable with the leftovers of the American dream on their plates. We've been here before.

Lymelife takes us to the grey, leafy, very middle-class haven of Long Island, New York, in 1979, during a notorious outbreak of Lyme disease. Amid the paranoia and suspicion caused by the outbreak, 15-year-old Scot Bartlett (Rory Culkin) tries to navigate the choppy waters of American adolescence. His dad, self-made, man's man Mickey (Alec Baldwin), has provided well for his family in the real estate business, but his recent affair - one in a long history of infidelity - with his co-worker (Cynthia Nixon) is rotting out his marriage from the inside.

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Scott, who idolises his father, can't stand his mother Brenda's (Jill Hennessy) resulting tightly wound demeanour. On top of that, Scott has to watch his childhood crush Adrianna (Emma Roberts) hanging out with the college jock while Scott gets pummelled by the school bully for his lunch money. When his army brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) who has already fled from the nightmare of his family, comes home for a brief holiday, the pressure cooker explodes. Lyme disease turns out to be nothing compared to the disease that is eating the American dream.

Dark portents suffuse this movie. Lyme disease (or an existential malaise?) has afflicted Adrianna's father Charlie (Timothy Hutton), who now secretes himself in his basement as his wife cavorts with Mickey. Jimmy, back from the army, is getting ready to ship out to the Falklands where a crisis is looming. American hostages are about to be taken in Iran. Something, it seems, has got to give in Scott's world, and soon.

So far, so familiar, but there's still a lot to enjoy in Lymelife. The Culkin brothers make for a credible pair of screen siblings with their easy familiarity. Alec Baldwin, enjoying something of a career renaissance recently with his role in comedy series 30 Rock, slips easily into the role of Mickey, who' s tough, self-made man image hides a childish vulnerability and petulance.

The film as a whole is stylishly put together and the isolated, barren, eternally overcast Long Island scenery never fails to impress on screen. While it might be a bit too heavy handed in terms of symbolism and part of a very crowded genre, Lymelife isn't guilty of any major sins either. Martin Scorsese attached himself to the movie as executive producer, so he clearly sees a future for the Martini brothers.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2010
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Set in the 1970s, a unique take on the dangers of the American dream seen through the innocent eyes of a 15-year-old boy.
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Director: Derick Martini

Writer: Derick Martini, Steven Martini

Starring: Alec Baldwin, Kieran Culkin, Rory Culkin, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon, Emma Roberts, Adam Scarimbolo, Phillip Pennestri, Logan Huffman

Year: 2008

Runtime: 95 minutes

Country: US


Sundance 2009

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