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Lemon (2017) Review

Weirdly-funny slice of life about a man made to make you uncomfortable.

Lemon is a 2017 comedy/drama about a man who watches his life unravel after he is left by his girlfriend of 10 years.

From the opening moments of Lemon, things are decidedly far left of center and it only veers farther from it as it ticks along, working hard to be as off balance and eccentric as it can, often to good effect, if that is your thing. There’s a clear calculation to it all that splits it from the the derivative ‘quirkiness’ of so many in the sub-genre, cleanly putting it in a field all its own. A minefield, but a field nonetheless.

Isaac (Brett Gelman) is a man well past broken, he is already in shatters. He’s kind of an actor but doesn’t act much, working more as a teacher in an acting class, though he spends most of that time deriding his students. For ten years, he’s been dating Ramona (Judy Greer), an active businesswoman who is also blind, but they are by the weakest of standards, going through the motions and about to end. He lands a part in an adult diaper ad, one his agent (Jeff Garlin) claims is a game changer and there, he meets Cleo (Nia Long), a beautiful makeup artist on set and instantly becomes smitten. He obsesses over her, making a fool of himself (with casual racial comments) about her but she somehow warms though things are about to get very dark for Isaac.

Directed by Janicza Bravo, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gelman, Lemon is a scathing look at the industry as well as a sharp observation of a man in decline. Isaac is never a likeable character, sometimes downright offensive and his story is a bleak one. Things are falling apart all around him including the glacier-like loss of Ramona who is leaving him in tiny increments. She is constantly on the move and thinning the already bare thread holding them together. To say he’s handling it well would be like saying that an erupting volcano is a well, a little warm. The film orbits around him uncomfortably, plotting out the deeping potholes that line up in front of his every step. It’s like a documentary of flailing bird stuck in a pool of tar.

The best parts are when Isaac is ‘teaching’ his class with only two students ever seen on stage. They are Tracey (Gillian Jacobs) and Alex (Michael Cera), he an arrogant professional actor honing his skills and she a starter who becomes the target of Isaac’s vitriol. These are the film’s funniest moments as Cera, in a bold fluffy hairstyle talks of “using animals in my exploring” and every word he says slices just as deep. The whole film could be centered just on the these three characters and be endlessly watchable. There’s also a pretty funny scene at Isaac’s parent’s house (Fred Melamed and Rhea Perlman) where a whole band of misfits gather for what is trying to be the most uncomfortable dinner ever put to the movies.

Lemon, 2017 © Burn Later Productions

Bravo and Gelman are clearly making every effort possible to be as peculiar as they can be. Every line of dialogue and every movement of every character is designed to be a mix of off-putting and yet … it’s all strangely magnetic. It makes several passing swipes at racism, most meant to be blunt, though just about everything in the film is as such. There’s no denying the performances – given how dark the story is – are strong. Gelman has long been a self-deprecating actor and seems always content to have himself be targeted in the most embarrassing and squirm-inducing moments and here he is given a full 83 minutes to do just that. Others are very good too, including the movie’s only bright light, Long who shines whenever she’s on screen and a brief but impactful moment from David Paymer.

Not for everyone, Lemon is a challenging film, one that feels like a collision of a Wes Anderson film and a Kafkaesque nightmare. Even with its short runtime, it tends to get weak in spots, made more oppressive by an eclectic score by Heather Christian. For genre fans, it’s a gold mine of dark treasures though everyone else will want to tread lightly.

Lemon (2017) Review

Movie description: Lemon is a 2017 comedy/drama about a man who watches his life unravel after he is left by his girlfriend of 10 years.

Director(s): Janicza Bravo

Actor(s): Inger Tudor, Brett Gelman, Judy Greer

Genre: Comedy

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