The coming-of-age story? Been there. The suburban family disintegration drama? Done that. The nostalgic period piece? Seen it. You can look at the pieces of a story like Lymelife on paper and wonder, “What’s the point?”
But as the wise man once said, that’s why they play the games.
It’s true that director Derick Martini and his brother/co-writer Steven explore familiar territory. Fifteen-year-old Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) is dealing in the early 1980s with typical teenangst issues like watching the girl he has always worshipped from afar, Adrianna (Emma Roberts), start dating older guys. But there are other issues in his family—notably the disintegrating marriage of his mom (Jill Hennessy) and dad (Eric Baldwin)—that have already driven his older brother (Kieran Culkin) out of the house to join the Army. Throw in an affair between Scott’s dad and Adrianna’s mom (Cynthia Nixon), and you’ve got recriminations just ready to let fly.
But it’s the little things that can make even recognizable set-ups feel fresh. The Martinis burden Adrianna’s father (Timothy Hutton) with the newly diagnosed Lyme disease, a quirk that ultimately feels like an ideal metaphor for frustrations with no easy cure. There’s a prickly-perfect bitter intensity to one shouting match between Scott’s parents. And near the end, there’s a scene that may be the most achingly awkward, unromanticized representation of losing one’s virginity in a movie since Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
The Martinis do sometimes demonstrate the same level of clumsiness as that aforementioned first-time lover. The ups and downs in the relationship between Scott and Adrianna don’t always pass the plausibility test, and there’s a disjointed rhythm to the editing that prevents some scenes from developing a natural flow. But as Lymelife builds towards an odd tragic-comic climax, it becomes clear that no matter the familiar building blocks, we certainly haven’t been here, or done this.