Precious, Juno-like guitar plucks seem like an odd soundtrack to open a film about Lyme disease. But Lymelife, the directorial debut of Derick Martini (which he co-wrote with his brother Steven) isn’t really about the illness. It’s about suburban isolation. It’s about loveless marriages. It’s about angry teens. Which still makes the quirky music sound very much out of place.
At least until you find out that Lymelife is a Sundance darling, first birthed by the Martinis during the festival’s 2001 film lab and finally screened there this year. Then it becomes all too clear: Sharing the angst, overanalysis, and offbeat characters of other Sundance Lab babies such as Eagle vs. Shark and Wristcutters: A Love Story, Lymelife is another not-terrible yet not-exactly-clamored-for glimpse into American Dream–driven dystopia.
The story is set in the late ’70s and centered on Scott (Rory Culkin), a 15-year-old who mopes around Long Island, crushing on childhood friend Adrianna (Emma Roberts) and watching parents Mickey and Brenda (Alec Baldwin and Jill Hennessy) become increasingly cold toward each other. An outbreak of Lyme disease makes Brenda paranoid, especially since it struck Adrianna’s dad, Charlie (Timothy Hutton). Charlie’s illness has forced his wife, Melissa (Cynthia Nixon), to become the breadwinner of the family as real-estate developer Mickey’s assistant. Melissa is bitter, Mickey is lonely—you do the math. Meanwhile, Scott and Adrianna keep getting their hormonal signals all mixed up, and Scott’s older military-enlisted brother, Jimmy (Kieran Culkin), advises the kid to get out of Dodge ASAP, lest he spend his young adulthood letting their parents’ toxicity rot his guts.
Lymelife reeks of unhappiness; throughout most of the film, the tension is excruciating as characters remain somewhat polite but are clearly tiptoeing around truths no one is brave enough to talk about. That sense of unease is the Martinis’ most impressive accomplishment—even if it doesn’t necessarily translate into worthwhile entertainment. The redundancy of the film’s issues aside, the brothers also bobble the small stuff: There’s a nearly incestuous best-friends dynamic between Jimmy and his mother that, besides its weirdness, never feels realistic considering Jimmy’s opinion of his family. And though God knows teenage girls can be mercurial, Adrianna’s behavior is so inconsistent she seems less a person than a plot device, submissive to the filmmakers’ every whim. And Scott—geez, can we get this kid some personality?
Most egregious, however, is the nagging impression that the Martinis intend the whole Lyme-disease thread as metaphor. (I suppose the title is one giveaway.) Hutton’s Charlie does little in the film except lie about in the family basement looking for work. He is obsessed, though, about killing deer, be it the hallucinatory ones his illness makes him see or the real ones that feed outside his house. Of course, it’s the tick that dug itself into Charlie that he should be angry about. Are all of Lymelife’s characters destroying their respective big pictures instead of trying to fix the little things? Probably, but you won’t really care.
Fighting Directed by Dito Montiel
No sensible moviegoer expects a masterpiece when buying a ticket for a film called Fighting. But writer-director Dito Montiel has followed his somewhat compelling debut, 2006’s A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, with a complete disaster. The first rule of fight flicks? For God’s sake, don’t be boring.
Instead of Fighting, Montiel might have called his second feature Sleepwalking, which is what Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard, and Zulay Henao offer as a substitute for acting. Or Nodding Off, the urge you’ll be battling throughout the film’s 105 minutes. This is not one of those violent movies that inspires real violence—in fact, when your seatmate’s baby cries or the inevitable cell phone goes off, you might want to thank offender for breaking up the monotony.
Tatum (Step Up) plays Shawn, a New York street vendor who sells whatever junk he can get his hands on. One day while he’s trying to unload a counterfeit Harry Potter book (“I don’t even know how you do a fake book!” he says to his deaf Asian umbrella supplier), some hustlers start strong-arming him to move off their turf and end up taking the cash that falls out of his pockets. The thugs are overlorded by a guy named Harvey (Howard), whom Shawn spots in a diner soon after—New York being such a small town—and confronts. Harvey gives Shawn his money back but also makes him an offer: He showed off some skillz during the sidewalk tussle, Harvey says, and he can help him earn some significant change fighting in an underground fisticuffs circuit.
Shawn agrees, and has a couple of battles—witnessed, hilariously and unbelievably, by wealthy crowds that include elderly white women—and stalks the woman who wanted to buy that Harry Potter fake, Zulay (Henao). See, she happens to work at the club Harvey frequents. And it’s also where one of Shawn’s old nemesis from Alabama, Evan (Brian White), likes to hang! There’s that small-world thing again.
Fighting’s fights aren’t all that exciting or brutal; Shawn tends to go unscathed during them, only to have some blood and bruises slapped on him when they’re over, which then disappear as quickly. When Zulay finally warms up to Shawn—for who knows what reason—they do a little tepid kissing before the camera cuts away. So there’s no sex and little action…and in between, lots of uninteresting conversations among really poorly acted characters. Even forgiving the cartoonish, one-note villains, Tatum is especially blank, and Howard starts off as a slick motormouth who talks until he gets what he wants—but then his Harvey just becomes annoying. The script’s big thing is that Shawn is too proud to throw a fight. Didn’t see that coming!
If Fighting can be commended for anything, it’s for its seedy depiction of New York: This isn’t Sex and the City, and you’ll feel filthy just watching the film as it follows the guys through the beaten storefronts and crowded streets of Queens. But you can swim in similar sewers in movies such as Crank: High Voltage, and even though either will make your IQ drop, at least the latter offers explosions, boobs, and bright, shiny things—and, ironically, about 100 times more fighting than the film that uses the verb as its title.