Lyme disease affects approximately 100,000 people in the United States annually, about .04 percent of the population. So when, in middle of Lymelife, Melissa Bragg (played by Cynthia Nixon) bemoans the fact that her husband has contracted the disease, saying, "Why me? A bus, a robbery, an accident, but Lyme disease?!" it is likely the audience is asking themselves the same question. Of all the diseases for a coming-of-age film to focus on, Lyme disease?! Really?
The film, set on Long Island in the 1970s, is a voyeuristic peek into the tangled lives of two dysfunctional families, the Bartletts and the Braggs. The Bartlett Family is comprised of a philandering patriarch, Mickey (Alec Baldwin), his wife, Brenda (Jill Hennessey), who is wistful for the days she still lived in Queens, and their two sons, Jimmy (Kieran Culkin), who has joined the army in order to escape the family tension, and Scott (Rory Culkin).
The film follows fifteen-year-old Scott as he navigates the perils of adolescence -- being bullied at school, pining for the girl next door, witnessing the dissolution of his parent's marriage. The object of Scott's affection is Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts), daughter of the unfortunate Lyme-afflicted Charlie (Timothy Hutton) and Melissa, who is both Mickey Bartlett's employee and his mistress. Complications ensue.
The two families live in the same subdivision, in houses separated by a small patch of forest. Presumably this patch was intended to have some degree of metaphorical significance, a number of pivotal scenes are set there, however it fails to carry the suggestion to any material conclusion. The same is true for the Lyme disease motif: while it provides some comic relief with Scott being forced by his over-protective mother to wear duct-tape around the collar of his turtle neck, the brim of his beanie, his ankles and shirtsleeves to guard against ticks, the film fails to articulate any larger symbolism.
At its best, "Lymelife" achieves the difficult feat of portraying family dynamic in a way that is both compelling and true to life. It is not surprising, as brothers Derick and Steve Martini wrote the script, and the Bartlett boys are played by real-life brothers Kieran and Rory Culkin. The scenes in which both Culkin brothers are involved are by far the film's highpoints.
At its worst, the film over-reaches with heavy-handed or unresolved symbolism, forced dialogue and awkward acting. It tries on the clichés of a few different genres (the dark comedy, the family drama, the heart-warming coming-of-age tale), but fails to execute any convincingly. The film did succeed, however, in making me identify with Charlie Bragg. By the end, I too wished to be put out of my misery.