Film: Lemon (2017)
Directed by Janizca Bravo. Written by Bravo and Brett Gelman.
Available for rent OnDemand, Amazon Video, & Google Play.
this shit was written by eric
Lemon is a 2017 film directed by Janizca Bravo about a man struggling in every aspect of his life. Isaac, played to great effect by Brett Gelman, is a theatre director whose long-term blind girlfriend is cheating on him, his prized student is getting better gigs, and his own acting career exists in short unheard monologues of mid-nineties New York. His family exists as an array of unhinged neuroses ranging from their son’s inability to move furniture without scratching the walls to the shame of having his face featured as the poster boy for those suffering with Hep C. The film is a beautiful trip and does a great job of stripping away the indie man-child dramedy streamlined in the 2000s by Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson.
I was delighted to see Brett Gelman star in this film, as I have been a fan of his comedically creepy characters for years. He has had bit parts and side-character spots on random TV shows, and he certainly does not disappoint in this film. His performance is dry and despicable and he rides the very difficult line between pseudo-poignancy and complete contemptibility with great aplomb. Bravo in her own right, is an incredible artist and photographer. She directed a short film in 2013, starring Michael Cera entitled Gregory Go Boom, which felt like Gummo meets Napoleon Dynamite, but better, and she also published a photo series with Vice called TOUPEE between 2011 and 2012 with Gelman starring as her muse, which was equal parts quirky and charming. (He also wrote the accompanying story.)
The film itself boasts an amazing look and feel. Much of the comedy is derived from the incredibly awkward interactions between pompous Isaac and the rest of the world. He is a character trapped in the metaphysical ramblings of theatrical “processes,” and his only passion comes from berating the “lesser” actress Tracy (Gillian Jacobs). Funnily enough, he even pawns that job off to Alex, played stunningly well by Michael Cera. What we are left with is a film about an artist who is so wrapped up in his own “art” that he forgets how to interact with other humans. It is very reminiscent of Caden Cotard in 2009’s Synecdoche, New York, and also draws so well from many other sources. There are bits of surrealism that seem sponged from Quentin Dupieux’s milieu, the social awkwardness of an LA in competition with itself from Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the real messy bits about confronting your own human emotions, as is seen in the films of Yorgos Lanthimos. It also has the yellow coloring and gorgeous soundtrack you’ve grown accustomed to seeing in a Paolo Sorrentino flick.
Though drawing from very different artistic realms, the film feels wholly of itself. It has an Anti-Hero who isn’t fully a hero, because there is perhaps no part of the film in which he takes full advantage of his agency, and in many ways, the film follows suit. There is so much action that takes place off-screen. It is as though we are watching the downfall of a human Plinko disc, just bouncing off interactions and scenarios and experiences with no true will of his own. Even in the scene where Isaac attempts to intimidate Alex with a knife, Alex appears more off-put and annoyed than frightened. You could not see a lazier, more reluctant fight than the one between these two. In fact, he is so lazy, he can’t even muster enough energy to sing “A Million Matzo Balls” with his family, which is the most entertaining, vividly gorgeous, and downright fun scene in the entire film. In fact, the only time he ever really acts at all is at the hallucinated behest of his new love-interest Cleo’s grandmother, in which he runs her wheelchair down the street in an attempt to help her escape after having a few strokes.
Lemon is an absolute delight that will affect your brain for days to come. I wholeheartedly look forward to seeing more films from Bravo in the future. The music and sound design is thrilling and evocative, and this is a film not to be missed.