Monday, November 09, 2009

 

Is research that hard?


By Edward Copeland
Whenever I complain about anachronisms or factual inaccuracies in a movie, some people think I shouldn't be taking the film in question so seriously. However, I can't help it. If a feature really has me under its spell, that kind of goof breaks it immediately and it's hard to recapture that spirit in the middle of the movie. Granted, Lymelife wasn't really wowing me anyway, but as the inaccuracies added up, it just added to my distaste for the film, despite its talented ensemble cast.


Before I start ranting about the anachronisms and inaccuracies, I feel it's best to talk about Lymelife itself. There's the oft-repeated Tolstoy quote about all happy families being the same but all unhappy families are different, but I swear movies, particularly indies, try their damnedest to put that author's truism to the test.

Lymelife is the directing debut of Derick Martini, who co-wrote the film with his brother Steven. Based loosely on his own experience, it stars Rory Culkin as 15-year-old Scott Bartlett, facing an array of growing pains in 1979 Long Island. His parents Mickey and Brenda (Alec Baldwin, Jill Hennessy) have a tense relationship, especially, as far as Scott knows, over Mickey's grand plan for a large housing community while Brenda yearns for their life back in Queens. Scott's older brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin) is in the Army and about to be activated for an overseas engagement. At school, Scott is the victim of bullies and longs for Adrianna Bragg (Emma Roberts), who views him as nothing more than a friend (and who hasn't been there).

Adrianna's life isn't going much rosier. Her mom Melissa (Cynthia Nixon) is unhappy and the breadwinner of the home, secretly sleeping with Mickey since Adrianna's dad Charlie (Timothy Hutton) is unemployed because he's been diagnosed with Lyme disease. (On a personal note that rang true, he mentions that at one point in the diagnosis process, doctors thought he might have multiple sclerosis. Before I was diagnosed with M.S., they ruled out Lyme disease as a cause of my problems.) As a result, he spends much of his free time in the woods with a rifle stalking deers he blames for his fate, though he's got more problems than just his illness. If a gun is introduced in the first act...

The cast all performs more than ably, though at times Hennessy lays her New York accent on a bit too thick. Once again, it's truly amazing what good actors the younger members of the Culkin brood, particularly Kieran, have turned out to be given what a mugging ham their older brother Macaulay was in his heyday.

Now, back to the rant. According to the IMDb, Derick Martini was born in 1975 and Steven Martini was born in 1978, meaning the brothers were 4 and 1 in the year the film was set, made clear that it's 1979 by a brief TV shot of the taking of the U.S. hostages in Iran and in a collection of train tickets. Since the press notes say the story is semiautobiographical, why did Martini choose to make it a period piece and, more importantly, why not make certain he got the facts of the period right.

There are little things. Scott has a collection of Star Wars figures and at one point in a hybrid of Travis Bickle and Han Solo, is shooting a laser pistol at his mirror at "Lando." I played this back twice to make sure I wasn't mishearing Greedo, but no, he's calling out Lando, the character played by Billy Dee Williams in The Empire Strikes Back who wouldn't be introduced until May 1980.

Other anachronisms could be nitpicked, but it's a huge inaccuracy that just pulled me out of the picture. Scott's brother is being activated as part of the U.S. effort in the Falkland Islands war. Now, maybe many of you have forgotten that war, but it was between the British and Argentina, it took place in 1982 and the U.S. was not involved in it whatsoever.

Maybe the Martini brothers were too young to get the facts straight, but the movie had two executive producers, including Martin Scorsese, and six producers, including Alec Baldwin, who helped get Lymelife made. Why did none of these people, who could mentor these young filmmakers, step up and say, "This is a giant goof about the Falkland Islands war." I know a lot of them are old enough and smart enough to know the real story and since this was a low-budget indie, they weren't just there for a paycheck. So why shirk their responsibility to help these young men?

Having just finished watching the first two seasons of Mad Men, which is meticulous in its details of real events, down to the day, it comes off as laziness when you see such blatant indifference to the facts in a film such as Lymelife.

Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is ignorance and though many advise you to check your brains at the door for movies, that applies more to crap such as Transformers. When you're trying to be real, why be so careless as to allow things to break that reality?


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Comments:
Hi Ed,

Saw LYMELIFE as well. I'm surprised you didn't understand, as smart as you seem to be, that the Culkin going off to training or back to service is very unclear. Upon leaving, he claims he's been "activated" due to some sort of crisis in the Falklands. Granted the Falklands weren't until 82 but the crisis began escalating in 79-80. And yes, as ex military, I know we sent troops over on actual aircraft carriers who did nothing more than sit around and "smoke cigarettes" as mentioned in the movie. Also it seemed to me that the film spanned from the fall to the spring. We see the time pass as Baldwin's home is being built from scratch, which takes six months. Also, as a Catholic, I know for sure that a Confirmation does not happen until the Spring, so the Lando line could have easily been known by the boy. These are nit-picky, noyhing better to do with your time criticisms on a film I found to be very smart, moving and funny. Too bad for you that you have hang ups, you may have enjoyed yourself.
 
You are correct about the Lando thing, but the film itself wasn't holding my interest enough to truly account for the passage of time, so his knowing about Lando is entirely possible. As for the Falklands, while there had been some tensions, the actual invasion in 1982 took Britain by surprise and the only support during the war that the U.S. provided was use of its air-to-air missiles, communications equipment, aviation fuel and other military stockpiles on British held Ascension Island as well as military intelligence. I can find no evidence of any U.S. involvement or aid to the Brits during the Carter Administration re the Falklands. I even remember the great SNL joke at the time about how long it took for the war to actually start because the British had no forces in the area and it took them a long time to get them and they had a diagram of their path which spelled out SLOW. The one question I don't think either of us can answer though is why people born in 1975 and 1978 writing a semiautobiographical story should choose to set it as a period piece. Granted, 1990 might be dull, but his older brother would have been being activated for the first Gulf War which the U.S. was involved in.
 
lyme disease wasn't discovered until 1982 so i dont know when this is meant to be set.
 
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