By Jonathon Potochnic

Citizen Jane Narrative Films

“Lemon” was screened at the 2017 Citizen Jane Film Festival.

Quirkiness has often been a theme that has translated well to film. Earlier in his career, Johnny Depp found success working alongside Tim Burton with visually appealing, estranged, larger-than-life affairs. It drives the unpredictable character arcs and motivations in Tarantino films. The Coen brothers consistently utilize it for both comedic effect and discomforting suspense. Without a shadow of a doubt it’s Wes Anderson’s forte.

Where these films succeed with this thematic presentation is by creating contrast. They juxtapose strange occurrences, dialogue and people with strong storytelling and excellent character development. The quirkiness of elements in the movie often begs the question from the audience: why? Questions of origin and previous hardships come into play. Unfortunately for “Lemon,” the application of this thematic effect isn’t well employed nor well understood.

“Lemon” details a man’s life and his relations with a blind girlfriend. The man, named Isaac, directs a play as well throughout the runtime. That’s really all that transpires in “Lemon.” The rest can be summarized as a heavy-handed, forceful approach from director Janicza Bravo to exaggerate the bizarre in life. Like the application of quirkiness, however, Bravo again misses the mark here in practice. Lemon pushes so hard to be unconventional and subversive. The screenplay eventually subverts the ideals of narrative fundamentalism and the factor of entertainment. With this in mind, the runtime often feels rather long despite clocking in at an hour and 25 minutes. The most perplexing aspect of “Lemon” is that it still ends up feeling a bit conventional and shallow.

Performance wise, “Lemon” fairs a bit better. I found most of the performances to be well-studied and consistent on an effort level. Michael Cera, in a supporting role to Isaac’s character, is an assumed standout. The issue I had with most of the characters, especially Isaac as the protagonist, is the way they were written and developed. The characters are presented in a manner that is meant to illustrate their unlikability, which is fine. Previous films have taken this approach and have succeeded. Casey Affleck’s character in “Manchester by the Sea” is one example of this. Another  is Michael Keaton’s mentally-ill theater director in “Birdman.” But Isaac is never really given an opportunity in the film to connect with audiences, or at least allowed to be empathetically observed.

Despite some questionable shot selection and directing choices, the cinematography is something to praise. With a mixture of Wes Anderson-esque two-dimensional shot composition and constant close-ups, Lemon provides some good, if slightly challenging, camera work.

One of my favorite aspects of “Lemon” was the score. A decent bit of mixture in its composition is employed here as well, but the majority of runtime had me humming to the choir-infused melodies. The music lends to the personality “Lemon” offers.

While a well-formed cast and fascinating elements drew me in, I was never rewarded with the material this film’s self-referential screenplay promised. I appreciated some aspects of the film like the creative camera work and the unconventional music selection and utilization. “Lemon” never brought many of these ambitious pieces together in a meaningful manner. It attempts to be be brave and subversive, but ends up subverting the audience as well. The sporadic nature of the characters and their motives had me extend the same analysis on the filmmakers. There may be a promising movie here that is deeply symbolic and humorously deadpan, but I felt I never got to see that movie on screen.

4.9/10. Bad.

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