Too often, the point of view in a story about an estranged parent coming back for their kid or an estranged spouse going after what they believe they’re entitled to, is from what the adult sees. The kid is relative. In “Divorce Lemonade”, that all changes with a sensitive eye toward the suburbs. It’s almost surprising to learn that this was filmed in Chicago, when the same houses can also be found here in the valleys of Southern California. From writer/director Justin Hayward’s viewpoint, they play an important part in this story, providing the emptiness of lives being lived, without making it too big an issue. The wind is also a character here, part of Sarah’s (Ashleigh Kennington) world, which has recently been plunged into divorce proceedings between her parents (Tim Krueger and Janetta Ratiu). Outside, on a day where storm clouds can’t decide where to go, she finds her father drunk, passed out in the front yard.
Sarah’s seen a lot of this already and in a sense, has grown numb to it. At 13 years old, on suburban property, she can’t effect much change. Kennington’s performance shows Sarah at that moment of deciding what to do about her father. She tells him that he can’t stay here, because her mother will call the cops. She doesn’t say that for herself. She’s not scared of him. In a life that’s been tattered by what must have been enormously frightening arguments between her parents, she simply does what she does in order to protect him because he’s her father. She has nothing to lose. Her voice, low and deadpan, is an acceptance of this situation. It is what it always will be. For her, against what looks like a new stepfather (Travis Dow), she just hangs on to what she still has. Her mother doesn’t know, but she will always know. It’s what makes “Divorce Lemonade” a shattering emotional work that can be felt for days.