In Theaters: Lymelife
Rule of thumb about perfect worlds: They're not. Take for example the dream scenario in which the United Nations' ban on self-serious films about suburban ennui has Alan Ball and Sam Mendes living as international fugitives. It looks great on paper, but then we likely wouldn't have Lymelife, director Derick Martini's own, fine chronicle of disaffection, dissolution and lust on Long Island in the 1970s.
With his brother, co-writer and composer Steven Martini, the filmmaker charts the overlapping dramas of two families sharing an upper-middle-class New York hamlet and varying, volatile levels of intimacy. Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) can barely contain his affection for elusive, doll-faced longtime friend Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts), whose mother (Cynthia Nixon) is a little more expressive in her extramarital dalliances with Scott's father (Alec Baldwin). Their respective spouses, played by Timothy Hutton and Jill Hennessy, languish at home in the solitary, paranoiac grips of lovelessness -- and a local outbreak of Lyme disease. Really.
Yet despite exercising more than one opportunity to smother Culkin in tick-proof duct tape, Martini isn't in Lymelife for the quirk. Nor does he seem preoccupied with climbing the Suburbia-Flick Family Tree, choosing instead to picnic uneasily in the shadow of The Ice Storm. For all its influence, though, that film's ensemble touch is also Lymelife's most extraordinary attribute. Martini's early clumsiness with staging settles into a generous showcase for his entire cast, also including Kieran Culkin as Scott's older brother, whose military career is just one of the faltering mythologies unraveling the Bartletts.
Few have it better than Baldwin, whose affluence can't hide "batting .500" as a father and striking out as a husband. That unsettling adjacency to real life informs several terrific scenes with Hennessy, the beautiful, abandoned wife for whom Long Island may as well be Siberia. Hutton wanders in and out of predatory consciousness, the humming of disease in his ears underscoring a riveting barroom showdown opposite Baldwin. Roberts gazes at Culkin with the same immense brown eyes as the deer so often in her father's rifle crosshairs. Self-determined as her Adrianna is, her vulnerability trumps even Scott's -- that of a boy who pushes his Star Wars toys off his bed to accommodate his first sexual experience.
And their courtship, while less than organic, sets up an irresolution unusual to the genre: Could any of these people be happy? Martini hints as much, though that dreary suburban neurosis will get the better of at least one couple, and his gripping finale purposely detours a few miles around closure. It won't satisfy some viewers, but that's an imperfect world for you. And in Lymelife's case, it's a good thing. RATING (out of 10): 8