What Ang Lee did for early 1970s Connecticut with his tragic-comic 1997 film The Ice Storm, Derick Martini attempts for late 1970s Long Island with his debut film, the similarly tragic-comic Lymelife.
The parallels between the two movies are striking. Both are tales of suburban angst; both feature a pair of intertwined dysfunctional families; both parallel adult adultery with the younger generation’s sexual awakening; and both use a natural calamity as plot motor and underlying metaphor.
The natural calamity that haunts the earlier film is the titular storm; in Lymelife (again as the title suggests) it’s Lyme disease.
Timothy Hutton’s jobless father, Charlie Bragg, is the one who’s been stricken by this tick-borne disease, and it’s left him so listless and despairing that he’s helpless to do anything about the brazen affair being conducted by his wife, Melissa (Cynthia Nixon), with their next-door neighbour, thrusting real-estate developer Mickey Bartlett (Alec Baldwin).
Mickey’s 15-year-old son Scott (Rory Culkin), meanwhile, has a hopeless crush on Charlie and Melissa’s daughter, Adrianna (Emma Roberts), and their burgeoning romance stands in relief to the squalid goings-on of the adults (who also include Charlie’s bitter mother, played by Jill Hennessy).
Martini’s semi-autobiographical film, co-written with his brother Steven, is sharply observed and solidly acted, but falls well short of its illustrious predecessor. Like The Ice Storm, Martini’s story climaxes with a devastating event, but whereas the earlier film’s denouement had the force of tragedy, Lymelife’s ending appears overly contrived.
That could be because it is less securely rooted in its period setting. Lee’s film, set in 1973, simultaneously evoked its era and shrewdly dissected it. Martini sets Lymelife in 1979, when he himself would have been three going on four. He strews the film with period references but gets some of them wrong.
Most egregious, at least for a British viewer, is the gaffe that occurs when Charlie’s soldier brother, Jimmy (played by yet another talented Culkin, Kieran), reveals that his unit is preparing for active service in the Falklands War – a conflict which didn’t take place for two more years and didn’t involve the US. Here at least, Martini should have stuck with warring families.
Released on DVD by Network on 23rd August.