Tag Archives: B



Dysfunctional suburban life isn’t exactly a new subject, and period coming-of-age stories even less rare, but Derick and Steven Martini combine the two to reasonably good effect in “Lymelife.”

The movie is set on Long Island in the late seventies (though, to tell the truth, the mention of both the Iranian hostage crisis and the Falklands conflict confuses the chronology a bit), and centers on Scott (Rory Culkin), a fifteen-year old kid with eyes for his neighbor and long-time chum Adrianna (Emma Roberts), who’s slightly older and interested in more mature boys.

Scott’s older brother Jim (Kieran Culkin) is a soldier home on leave after basic training, before being deployed, and takes vengeance on a schoolyard bully who’s just pummeled Scott. But the greater household problem is with their parents. Mom Brenda is intensely unhappy, pining after their old home in Queens, and estranged from Dad Mickey (Alec Baldwin), who spends virtually all his time working on a subdivision that he hopes will be a goldmine. He’s also having an affair with his assistant Melissa (Cynthia Nixon), Adrianna’s mother, whose husband Charlie (Timothy Hutton) is suffering from lyme disease. He pretends to be going to the city each day, but actually spends his time lurking in the basement or stalking deer in the nearby woods.

Plot, frankly, isn’t the picture’s strong suit. What “Lymelife” is concerned with are the evolutions in the relationships among the characters, with Scott and Adrianna growing closer, though with speedbumps along the way, and eventually having an intimate bedroom encounter that’s convincingly clumsy, while their parents work their ways through their mutual entanglements. The titular disease, and the unhappy events that keep intruding on the character’s consciousness from outside their small orbit, act to situate the local troubles within a larger world of global problems. The final minutes build considerable suspense about whether things are about to get even worse, and it’s appropriate that the issue is left unresolved. But some viewers are likely to feel as cheated by the ending as they were by the close of “The Sopranos.”

The film scores, though, in the genuineness of its environment (kudos to production designer Kelly McGehee, art director Matt Munn, set decorator Kelley Burney, costumer Erika Munro, and cinematographer Frank Godwin), in the Martini brothers’ sharp writing and Derick’s sensitive direction, and the strong performances across the board. Rory Culkin exudes shyness and vulnerability, and carries off even the scenes in which he poses and practices bits of dialogue in front of a mirror, and Kieran is dead on as his exuberant older brother, while Roberts has a Lolita-like quality as the object of Scott’s obsession. The parents are excellent two, with Baldwin again showing how far he’s developed as a character actor and Hutton convincingly gaunt and tortured. Hennessy, meanwhile, manages Brenda’s radical mood swings well, and Nixon does likewise with Melissa’s.

“Lymelife” may not do anything radically new, but it offers enough twists on familiar territory to be worth a visit.



If you enjoyed Michael Douglas’ turn as the wayward academic in “Wonder Boys” (2000) and Richard Jenkins’ in Tom McCarthy’s current “The Visitor,” there’s a good chance you’ll also have a good time watching Dennis Quaid as a similar character in “Smart People.” He plays Lawrence Wetherhold, a widowed, burnt-out professor of English Literature at Carnegie Mellon who can’t be bothered to learn his students’ names and has written a book that’s been rejected by publisher after publisher. His only real interest is in securing appointment as the department head, although his position as chair of the search committee puts him at a disadvantage in that regard and he’d obviously skirt most of the job’s responsibilities.

The portrait of Wetherhold as an academic is keen-eyed and highly amusing—his run-ins with students and interaction with fellow faculty are gruesomely funny. But the focus of Mark Jude Poirier’s script is more on his personal life, especially his troubled relationship with his children: James (Ashton Holmes), a student (and aspiring poet) living a university dorm with whom he has little real contact, and Vanessa (Ellen Page), a driven high school senior (and Republican activist) who’s determined to get into the college of her choice and has taken on the duty of keeping house for her father in her mother’s absence.

But Lawrence’s circumstances suddenly change when he suffers a concussion falling from a fence in an ill-advised effort to retrieve his briefcase from his impounded car. Precluded from driving for six months by physician Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), he’s forced to accept the offer of his ne’er-do-well adopted brother Chuck (Thomas Haden Church) to move into the family home and serve as his driver. After a rocky start Vanessa will be infatuated with her happy-go-lucky, free-spirited “uncle.” Meanwhile the professor himself will tentatively try a romance with Hartigan, who turns out to be a former student who’d once had a crush on him.

It’s pretty obvious where all this is headed. Wetherhold will be teased out of his emotional aridity by the young doctor, and Vanessa will be loosened up by Chuck. (The odd man out is James, which proves a pretty thankless role for Holmes.) But though the plot treads fairly predictable ground overall, the particular episodes are for the most part winning, and the dialogue is often snappy.

And the performances are strong, even when the material isn’t. Playing against type, Quaid is a nicely rumpled Wetherhold, managing to convey the guy’s condescension without making him simply nasty. Page does the same sort of overachiever shtick that Reese Witherspoon did in “Election,” with equal success. And Church brings as much goofy charm to Chuck as he did to his character in “Sideways.” If Parker comes off less well, that’s partly due to the fact that Hartigan isn’t as well developed as the other characters—except, of course, for the nearly invisible James, whom Holmes can’t really bring to life. To compensate, there are some excellent bits in smaller parts. And the rather drab, muted look given the film by production designer Patti Podesta and cinematographer Toby Irwin suits the academic setting. The guitar-based score by Nuno Bettencourt seems rather muted, too, but that’s preferable to being overbearing.

Maybe it’s no accident that both “Wonder Boys” and this picture are set in Pittsburgh. Perhaps the Pennsylvania city has a ready supply of quirky professors whose antics make for good theatre. “Smart People” isn’t a work of genius, but it’s clever enough to make you forgive its missteps.