Lyme disease is a metaphor for life in the suburbs for one unhappy family.
I don’t think I’m going too far out on the limb in saying that “Lymelife” is the first movie to ever use Lyme disease as a metaphor for the blood-sucking ennui of suburbia.
That’s the only thing unique, though, about this two-Martini fueled recollection of just how terrible it was growing up on Long Island in the late 1970s. Yup, life was sure hard in the crime-free ’burbs, particularly if you were white and middle class.
How could they possibly survive all that angst and repression in the “hood”?
Not to worry, Derick and Steven Martini are all too happy to regale you with their personal tales of how they weathered bullies, next-door beauties and numerous sexual itches that needed to be scratched.
As if that wasn’t enough to tick the boys off, there were the ticks, many of them infected with Lyme and residing in their own little version of suburbia on the backs of doe-eyed deer.
It’s certainly a miracle the Martinis lived to tell about it, but you might not feel so lucky if you’re stuck listening to their frivolous squawking. You might even be tempted to get up and walk away. And you probably would if not for the Martinis’ champagne cast.
They’ll rivet you, particularly Alec Baldwin as a philandering real estate developer who places his work and his mistress (Cynthia Nixon) ahead of his depressed wife (Jill Hennessy) and their frustrated children (Rory and Kieran Culkin).
What’s nice about Baldwin’s performance is that he doesn’t play Mickey Bartlett as a selfish cad. Rather, he plays him as more of a failed dreamer whose grandiose ideas run contrary to the pragmatic attitudes of a wife who pays far more attention to their two sons than she does to him.
It’s a big departure from the cocky power-monger Baldwin plays on “30 Rock,” but it’s no less dynamic; just more heartfelt and moving.
Same for Nixon, who also strays far from her “Sex and the City” persona to play Melissa Bragg, a sharp, intelligent woman suffocated by a bad marriage to a man (Timothy Hutton) who’s lost his will to live after being diagnosed with Lyme disease.
Despite being the “other woman,” Nixon makes it tough to hate Melissa simply because she allows her character’s vulnerability to affectingly shine through a hardened exterior.
Even better is Emma Roberts as her precocious daughter, Adrianna. Roberts moves gracefully from the kiddy ranks to the big leagues with a surprisingly mature and complex performance. There’s a shrewdness to her, that makes it understandable why Rory Culkin’s Scott turns to mush whenever he’s in her presence.
He’s diggin’ on her and she knows it, taking secret pleasure in watching him squirm. It also helps her relieve the pressure of a not-so-keen home life in which Mom and Dad rarely talk anymore.
Like her more seasoned co-stars, Roberts works overtime to help leaven a cliché-riddled script that piles on every suburban malady the Martinis can think of while awkwardly dropping in a host of 1970s pop-culture references from “Star Wars” to the War in the Falklands, where Kieran Culkin’s Jimmy is coincidentally headed off to fight.
The problem is that none of it means anything. Nor does the movie distinguish itself from “Lymelife’s” many predecessors from “The Ice Storm” to “American Beauty” to “Little Miss Sunshine.”
If you’re gonna dwell in the suburban drama, you better bring something new to the neighborhood or risk foreclosure. And in this day and age, nobody wants to see that – or this.
LYMELIFE (R for language, some sexual content, violence and drug use.) Cast includes Alec Baldwin, Rory Culkin, Cynthia Nixon, Jill Hennessy, Emma Roberts, Kieran Culkin and Timothy Hutton. Co-written and directed by Derick Martini.
The Patriot Ledger