Those noticing the rating and are already halfway out the door in hopes of seeing something salacious and scandalous–take a seat. There is nothing here that can be considered more objectionable than anything that appears in a token R-rated movie: some bad language, a fleeting glimpse of male-female sex, non-explicit verbal sexual references and innuendo. The restrictive rating seems more a reaction to the orientation of those references: the focal character is gay teen Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), and the film’s key relationship is the chaste friendship between him and Big John (Brian Cox), a pedophile.
The performances in Michæl Cuesta’s film are dead-on; Cox has deservedly earned many kudos for his tightrope walk of a performance: creepy yet oddly sympathetic and charming–which just ups the creepy factor. Just as good is Dano as the troubled Howie, as is an all-too-briefly seen Billy Kay as Gary, Howie’s bad boy best friend and unrequited crush. But providing too much of a distraction from these intriguing Howie-John and Howie-Gary relationships is the conventionally strained one between Howie and his father (Bruce Altman), who has a most uninvolving subplot involving his shady business practices. The plot threads that do work are involving, but given how they stop rather than come to a natural end, L.I.E.–which stands for “Long Island Expressway”–ultimately offer little satisfaction outside of the strong performances.