MOVIE REVIEW
Lifelines

Encased In That Uncomfortable Skin Called Family

By Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com   SHARE
Friday, April 3, 2009

Rob Margolies writes, produces and directs the film "Lifelines", an illuminating and effective portrait of a family's self-diagnosis in suburban New Jersey.  The film's tone early on is bright and energetic, though diffused through snapshots of troubled family members of the Bernsteins, a blunt, volatile clan seen in uneasy or risky locations at the start.  This is by design as the director skillfully accesses the subterranean aspects within each family member -- a father who realizes he's gay (Josh Pais), a mother who is exasperated by life and family (Jane Adams), and their three children, a foul-mouthed teenage girl (Dreama Walker), an older brother who stutters (Robbie Sublett) and a young boy (Jacob Kogan) who has a secret.

"Lifelines", which opened in select theaters in the U.S. and Canada today, has the tone of Todd Solondz' films ("Happiness", "Storytelling", "Palindromes") and tosses a bouquet to "American Beauty", but then emerges on its own as an earnest, penetrating examination of what lies behind the dissention and unease writhing within each of the Bernsteins.  They visit a psychiatrist (Joe Morton, great here as Dr. Livingston) who helps dig deep beneath the pain and distress to expose much more.  It all may sound like a tale filled with melancholy and much of it is, but the way Mr. Morton slows down the proceedings with his work as the doctor is what makes much of this film succeed on its own merits, providing catharsis for the characters (and the film itself) in reaction to the film's initial claustrophobia.  Dr. Livingston, we presume, has a few issues of his own, but "Lifelines" also separates itself from other similarly-situated films because of its honesty and quiet power. 

Where other films so often take the easy way out with shock value techniques when exploring family and the engineering that hard wires its members together, Mr. Margolies, who makes a confident feature-directing debut, resists traveling that avenue.  He pens an interesting story, telling it straight up and down, sprinkling doses of comedy and chaos all over.  "Lifelines" is benefitted by the work of Miss Adams (who appeared in "Happiness"), who plays angst so well that it's automatic.  As Nancy, Miss Adams speaks some funny lines, as does Josh Pais ("Year Of The Dog", "Teeth"), who as Ira just doesn't get any respect at all.  Aside from Mr. Morton (who also impressively sang and wrote the song heard over the film's closing credits), the star of this film is young Mr. Kogan, who so creepily played the title role in the film "Joshua" (2007), does well here as Spencer, an ill-adjusted kid searching for himself.  Forever running away, Spencer is first seen on uneasy footing.  Mr. Sublett's work is also good, with Miss Walker providing punch as the confrontational and verbally abusive daughter to her mother.

"Lifelines", which was shot over 11 days for a meager $385,000, doesn't wow, but it is sophisticated, smart and clever enough to be a film that's a perfectly pitched family drama.

"Lifelines" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America but does contain some harsh language, mainly four-letter expletives.  The film's duration is one hour and 35 minutes.

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