Things haven’t been going great for Isaac (Brett Gelman), the bearded and bespectacled protagonist of director and co-writer’s Janicza Bravo’s Lemon (Gelman also wrote the film with Bravo). His longtime girlfriend, Ramona (Judy Greer), is always traveling and never wants much to do with Isaac when she’s home. Finally, she decides enough is enough. Isaac is an acting teacher and when one of his students (Michael Cera) book a big role in a film, Isaac is unable to contain his jealousy towards his success.
“There’s a degree of smugness permeating every frame…”
As we follow Isaac throughout Lemon, it is unclear if we are supposed to feel bad for him. Here is a grown man, so consumed by his own life with no regards for anyone else, which makes feeling anything resembling empathy for him a difficult task. Isaac spends most of his time wallowing in his self-pity. It makes it hard to invest in this central character for a particularly unfunny 80 minutes.
When Ramona and Isaac officially decide to end their relationship, Isaac is lost but strikes up a flirtation – used loosely – with Cleo (Nia Long). For whatever reason, Cleo seems to be charmed by Isaac’s offbeat personality and continues to go on a few dates with him. She brings him to a family picnic, which for the sake of attempted hilarity, doesn’t go well.
“…its own special brand of comedy.”
Cringe comedy, when done right, can be very effective, but everything about Lemon, the Isaac character and Gelman’s characterization of him feels forced from the start. Every scene feels contrived and trying to out-weird the previous. Once the final credits roll, the movie will disappear from your memory because it failed to leave anything memorable behind.
There’s no doubt Lemon will work for some who can get on board with its own special brand of comedy. There’s a degree of smugness permeating every frame with the hopes of finding a cult audience. In the end, Lemon is a barely functioning film.
Lemon (2017). Directed by: Janicza Bravo. Written by: Janicza Bravo and Brett Gelman. Starring: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera and Nia Long.