- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 15, 2009

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Are you aware that the suburbs aren’t nearly as idyllic as they may appear?

It’s true. All those polished, homogenous facades, with their manicured lawns and their fancy cars parked out front _ sometimes they hide the fact that the people living inside aren’t all that happy.

Well, if you haven’t seen the myriad movies that have made this point, up to and including last year’s overwrought “Revolutionary Road,” Derick Martini hammers it home with not-so-subtle symbolism in “Lymelife,” his directing debut.

Martini also wrote the script with his brother, Steven, based on their childhood on Long Island. Clearly, they are still scarred. Only the performances from a strong ensemble make “Lymelife” more tolerable than it ought to be.

It’s the late 1970s and two families are going through parallel, secret turmoil. On one side, there’s 15-year-old Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin), enduring all the usual coming-of-age angst; his older brother, Jimmy (Culkin’s real-life brother, Kieran), who’s about to head off to war; their philandering father, Mickey (Alec Baldwin); and their neurotic mother, Brenda (Jill Hennessy).

On the other, there’s the object of Scott’s affections, the precocious Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts); her detached mother, Melissa (Cynthia Nixon); and her gun-toting father Charlie (Timothy Hutton), who’s suffering from the debilitating effects of Lyme disease.

Yes, Lyme disease.

Ostensibly, the ticks that carry the disease are intended as a metaphor for the fears that nibble away and plague us _ Brenda literally wraps Scott’s ankles and wrists in duct tape to keep the creatures from crawling up his clothing and biting him _ and the deer that carry the ticks symbolize some sort of elusive beauty and grace. They might just be ticks and deer, mind you, but “Lymelife” takes itself too seriously for that to be the case.

Martini also relies too heavily on the visual symbolism of the tiny model homes Mickey has designed to sell his burgeoning real estate development. Over and over, he lingers on the fake plastic houses populated by fake plastic people and surrounded by fake plastic trees. We get it _ nothing is real or reliable.

And yet, the performances make you wish “Lymelife” had something more novel or substantive to offer.

Unsurprisingly, Rory and Kieran Culkin have an easy way with each other, even during the intense moments they share; the younger Culkin also enjoys some lively teen banter with the increasingly mature Roberts. (Their obligatory loss-of-virginity scene is painfully honest in its awkwardness.)

And Hutton, no stranger to suburban misery as an Oscar-winner for “Ordinary People” nearly 30 years ago, projects so much with stoic silence. He also has a marvelously tense, drunken scene at the neighborhood dive bar in which Charlie confronts Mickey without ever explicitly saying he knows Mickey’s been having an affair with his wife. Just the way they look at each other says it all.

But too much of “Lymelife” feels like cliched whining. And you can get that at home for free.

“Lymelife,” a Screen Media Films release, is rated R for language, some sexual content, violence and drug use. Running time: 95 minutes. Two stars out of four.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G _ General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG _ Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 _ Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R _ Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 _ No one under 17 admitted.

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