A snapshot into the lives of two families living on Long Island in the late 1970s, Lymelife is about their dysfunction and struggle to live happily. You don’t see too many happy families in dramas like this, probably because it would be boring. You need the conflict for there to be much reason to watch. The rare optimistic film might peek through but it’s the ones that balance the good and the bad — but generally fall on the side of the latter — which captivate audiences and remain memorable several days later. Lymelife does both of these things.
The first family, the Bartletts, are going through tough times. The father, Mickey (Alec Baldwin), is cheating on the mother, Brenda (Jill Hennessy). The two children, brothers Scott and Jimmy (Rory and Kieran Culkin), are affected by this. We don’t see this cheating take place until the film is 1/3 of the way over, but it’s implied that when we see it, it’s not the first time. Mickey does this sort of thing on a whim, presumably because he’s bored. Suburbia can do that to you, I guess, although Lymelife doesn’t advocate extramarital affairs.
The second group is the Bragg family. Its father, Charlie (Timothy Hutton), has Lyme disease, which is something that would strain even the tightest of families. The mother is Melissa (Cynthia Nixon), who is the woman Mickey is cheating with. Together, the two have a daughter, Adrianna (Emma Roberts), who has been lifelong friends with Scott, the youngest Bartlett. She likes him and he her, but the degree to which they show this is something you’ll have to watch play out.
Lymelife does a great job of building these families. That makes their dismantling so much more powerful. While things aren’t great even at the start of the movie — the seeds have been sown, so to speak — they’re not too terribly off. The small things begin building up, the aforementioned cheating incident happens, and then the dysfunction really comes through. The positive spark to the film is the budding relationship between Scott and Adrianna, much like how the positivity in Snow Angels came from its young couple.
I bring up Snow Angels because in a lot of ways, Lymelife reminded me of it. This film might be more subtle, and might not have the same emotional weight to it, but they take on similar subject matters and aim to have the same sort of impact on an audience. This extends to the surprising, yet fitting endings. One has more ambiguity than the other, and those of you who saw Snow Angels know that it’s not that one.
Much of the power of a film like this is in the characters. If they feel shallow, or stereotypical, or underwritten, their actions will feel false to us. Lymelife‘s screenplay — written by Derick and Steven Martini, and directed by the former — gives each of these characters depth, and the dialogue they have with each other is smart and doesn’t pander. They each have a purpose, sure, and the characters might remind you of someone you know, or of tropes you’ve previously seen, but the film does more with them than that.
It helps that all of the performances are top-notch. And indie drama like this one is an actor’s dream, and everyone steps up to the plate. Rory Culkin isn’t a household name, but with work like this, he should be. His Scott is a wounded individual with just enough anger bubbling underneath, especially after learning what his father is doing. Baldwin and Hutton play foils to one another. Baldwin is energetic, charismatic and does what he wants, when he wants; Hutton can barely get out of bed in the morning, and there’s an overwhelming sadness to his character.
On the female side, Jill Hennessy gets a few scene-stealing moments, particularly when finally having a profanity-filled tirade in the direction of her husband. Cynthia Nixon is more subdued, and if there’s one of the main cast that is forgotten — apart from the other Culkin brother, Kieran — it’s her. Emma Roberts takes what could have been a superficial character and turns it into a more knowing, one, and someone whose relationship with the character played by Rory Culkin is one worth watching.
This is also a film with absolutely gorgeous cinematography. Whether we’re exploring the small town or the woods which seem to be around every corner, Lymelife looks fantastic. There is one shot at the end — a blink-or-you-miss-it type of shot — that is so wonderfully framed that it will make you appreciate the film more as a whole, and possibly force you to rewatch it for similar points. It also adds to the ambiguity of the ending, and I still can’t decide what I think happened to some of the characters — in particular, the fate of a deer which might or might not be completely metaphorical.
Lymelife is a great film. If you like emotionally affecting indie dramas, ones with strong characters and a great sense of time and space, you’ll enjoy this film. It has smart, sharply written characters, fantastic performances, gorgeous cinematography, and accurately captures the degradation of a couple of families. This is one of the good ones, and you should seek it out, even if it’s not always an easy watch.