If disruptive, disrespectful behavior is a sign that a young person is troubled or unhappy, what would constitute the behavior of an unhappy adult? Writers Derick and Steven Martini’s film “Lymelife” (2008) suggests that grownups would argue, become withdrawn, and cheat on their spouses. Directed by Derick Martini and set in the late 1970s/early 1980s, “Lymelife” is a cautiously cynical portrait of the rites and rituals of family life.
Mickey Bartlett (Alec Baldwin) is a successful real estate developer, who, along with his wife Brenda (Jill Hennessy) and sons, “Star Wars”-loving Scott (Rory Culkin) and army communications specialist Jim (Kieran Culkin), is soaking up the American dream. Meanwhile, real estate agent Melissa Bragg (Cynthia Nixon), her unemployed husband Charlie (Timothy Hutton), and their daughter Adrianna (Emma Roberts) are more or less doing the same. Scott and Adrianna are going through the typical adolescent experience — hormones, marijuana, and navigating the social structure of high school. Their parents appear to be faring well in their daily grind too — at least until Mickey buys Brenda a house for her birthday (instead of displaying gratitude for the gesture, she is unpleasantly surprised) and the film reveals that Melissa is sleeping with her boss, Mickey.
Although “Lymelife” arguably places more of an emphasis on the impact that family dysfunction has on Scott and his mental health, the film ultimately functions more like a year in the life of the these two families. Specifically, it offers an answer to the question of how adults act out when they are unhappy.
Oh, and yes, there is that tick-and-deer motif. Martini’s film is called “Lymelife” for a reason. The first scene includes a radio news segment explaining Lyme disease and that the tick transmits but is not the source of the illness (which is actually the deer’s blood). Timothy Hutton’s character suffers from Lyme disease; when he isn’t imagining that a deer is in the yard, he’s sitting in the basement smoking or walking around with a rifle. If Martini’s film devoted just a couple more scenes of Charlie “hallucinating” seeing the deer, one could have a blend of “Donnie Darko” and “Smart People”. “Lymelife” is funny and well-acted, but it’s just shy of being compelling enough to be remembered.