The 2009 Newport Beach Film Festival opened their tenth festival in dramatic fashion with a screening of Derek Martini’s Lymelife on the big screen at the Edwards Big Newport 6 multiplex. This theater is a particular favorite of many local residents because the 40-by-80-foot screen, touted as the biggest west of the Mississippi, and the 1,108-seat capacity make for a unique viewing experience.
After a few too many speeches from the likes of Newport Beach Mayor Edward D. Selich; founding sponsor, sports agent Leigh Steinberg; and honorary chairman director McG, who grew up in the area, welcoming everyone and imbuing the festival with much more importance on the circuit than it has attained so far, Lymelife producer Leonard Loventhal offered a few words about the project before the film began.
Set on Long Island in the late ‘70s, Martini’s coming-of-age story, which he co-wrote with his brother Steve, suffers from being a tad too familiar. It covers territory dealt with many times before, including some scenes reminiscent of other films, yet Martini offers no new insight. The characters, some of which come off more like caricatures, aren’t explored or examined, causing a lack of connection for the viewer.
Rory Culkin plays Scott Bartlett, a high-school kid who fancies his friend/next-door neighbor Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts). She is more into older guys, but there are temporary flashes of a returned interest on her part, but they don’t appear to last long. Scott also has to contend with a bully at school who bloodies his nose in their first encounter. What complicates matters in Scott’s life is his womanizing father, Mickey (Alec Baldwin), who is sleeping with Adrianna’s mother, Melissa (Cynthia Nixon playing a Long Islander like an improv comic who only knows New Yorkers from watching bad sitcoms). This is the final straw of abuse and embarrassment for Scott’s overprotective mother Brenda (Jill Hennessy). The story with these characters moves along in a predictable fashion as the days go by.
The two most interesting characters are unfortunately given the least amount of screen time. Husband/father Charlie Bragg (Timothy Hutton) is suffering from Lyme disease. He has difficulty coping alone with an illness others don’t understand. He fools his wife into thinking he goes into the city to look for work, but instead smokes pot in the basement and takes target practice outside. Scott’s older brother Jimmy (played by older brother Kieran Culkin) is on leave from the military and offers Scott some help with all he is going through and confronts his father at an embarrassing night out at the local bar.
Lymelife ends with the sound of a gunshot over a black screen, leaving the audience to wonder if a character committed suicide, murder, or did the gun just fire. The ambiguity of the ending doesn’t add anything to the story or the thematic elements and appears to be the filmmakers trying to be clever by cheating rather than doing the hard work of creating a satisfying ending.
I am not sure what the NBFF saw in Lymelife to make it the opener. It was a pleasant enough experience with a few laughs and a number of well-known actors, but this film like too many others is rather forgettable. There’s no great scene of action or dialogue that stands out. Yes, there are good performances and serviceable direction, and the film will likely do well on cable, but if the NBFF want to make a name for themselves as a festival, they need to choose something bold and original.