Lemon (2017)


“I booked a thing.”

Some movies intentionally take us off the beaten path to ill-effect, giving us a bumpy ride without anything meaningful to really latch onto. Take the filmographies of the competent yet abhorrent and exploitative Joel Potrykus or Uwe Boll for example. These men create moldy pictures that fester, made only to frustrate and to sicken. I once reviewed Potrykus’ The Alchemist Cookbook as one of 2016’s worst movies and he responded on Twitter with a celebratory “Yes!!!!” That’s not a filmmaker, at least to me; that’s a con-artist and an agent provocateur. I bring this up because Lemon unfolds similarly, but unlike the previously mentioned, it takes the time to have the semblance of a genuine comedic arc and an almost overwhelming amount of cringe-worthy pathos. This movie is as knowingly repulsive as it is self-aware and hyper-critical.

I hardly enjoyed watching Isaac (Brett Gelman), but for less than 90 minutes I was constantly compelled by him, drawn to his damaged substrate covered and suited in white male superiority and privilege. He’s haughty without the couture or the name brand price tag, a plain shirt with a crooked Polo logo sewn on to feel cool and to impress. Ramona (Judy Greer), a traveling medical sales rep, spends as little time in their dingy apartment as possible. She can’t see and reads love novels in Braille, her only intimacy coming through her own fingertips. The ever talented Greer passes for a blind woman so disinterested with her partner of ten years that we can imagine her turning a cheek no matter her condition. Ramona can’t literally look to the future, but her heart knows the stagnant Isaac is no longer up for the ride. Into a tailspin he goes.

Isaac is getting older but still wants to be taken seriously as an actor, on more than one occasion reminding students and colleagues of his stints in New York; this is suggestive of the Big Apple’s supposed artistry versus Hollywood’s suppressed creativity, all despite his latest paycheck coming from modeling for a Hep C advertisement. It’s a genuinely laugh out loud scene and a moment of stripped down critique by director Janicza Bravo. The impressive supporting performances from recognizable actors help keep our interest, but this is a movie about a disgusting and uncomfortable man with a story so dedicated to its inherent gag that we tag along. At first you wonder what’s going on. Then it happens again, and again, and by the second act we’re not only adjusted to its ridiculous nature, but half-expectant of the jokes to be pined from them. That’s devotion.

The film ends abruptly, the credits run with footage still rolling, and audiences will sit there – as did my entire theater – hoping for the faintest sense of closure. Then the lights come up and you’ll be frustrated to be left on such a flat note. One older woman exited before me saying, “Well, that sure was different!” That’s the intent. Lemon wants to build in its own folly and have us sit down for a partner duet in an off-key rendition of “Chopsticks.” Then it strikes a damning low A note to signal its conclusion. Similar to 2012’s unrightfully lambasted The Comedy, itself a dismantling of New York’s ungrateful upper-class beneficiaries, the film starts by stating it was shot and based in Los Angeles only before rebuking and mocking the bourgeoisie culture at its center, condemning the cyclical nature of this hyperbolic and cynically drawn West Coast caricaturization. Lemon begins with our lead in a literal piss poor state and ends with him in a literal shit filled mess. That is because he himself is a hapless and destructive lemon, squirting the juice in his eyes and nibbling on the bitter rind. Lemon’s bizarre, well-crafted, bone dry, and full of hilariously painful metaphors. I’m not sure I’d voluntarily watch it again, but maybe that’s because it leaves such a harsh mark.

“Don’t look for meaning in this.”

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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