DVD Review: Lemon (2017)

By , Contributor
Outrageously original, writer-director Janicza Bravo's Lemon is one of the great overlooked movie gems of 2017. So odd, so idiosyncratic, so unexpectedly funny and thought-provoking, Lemon is a movie to recontextualize over the course of multiple viewings. I assume as much, at the very least, because I've not had a chance to rewatch it yet. But I know I will. Lemon is the kind of movie that is difficult to speak about cogently after just one viewing because it packs so many intriguing ideas into its 83 minutes. But the end result is a film that practically begs to be rewatched to fully absorb.

Suffice it to say that Lemon, available on DVD November 21 (what—no Blu-ray?? Shame, because cinematographer Jason McCormick's 2.35:1, mostly wide-shot imagery absolutely deserves the best resolution possible), is a no-brainer for any viewer with a taste for truly out-of-left-field entertainment. Mixing stylistic influence ranging from David Lynch to Wes Anderson to Woody Allen, director Bravo (who co-wrote with star Brett Gelman) comes up with the most pleasant of surprises—a unique voice. This is Bravo's first feature film (her past filmography contains short films and TV work) and, if we're focusing on the long-overdue advancement of women directors, Lemon is a far more significant step than the much ballyhooed (but ultimately distressingly hollow) "victory" of Patty Jenkins with her homogenized Wonder Woman
 
rsz_lemon_nia_long.png One of the distinguishing features of Lemon as a work by a female voice is that it centers squarely on a male character. Isaac Lachmann (Gelman) is an impossibly self-centered, overgrown man-child who lives with a blind girlfriend, Ramona (Judy Greer), and teaches drama at a community theater. Middle-aged Isaac suggests Napoleon Dynamite—25 years later and drained of all youthful optimism. Isaac is in some ways more "blind" than Ramona, who suffers in a relationship devoid of physical passion. He's also so bitter over his own shortcomings in life that he's more or less stunted his own capacity for personal growth. His obsession with a young, vital, pretentious young actor in his class, Alex (Michael Cera, strikingly good), becomes unhealthy. Alex's star is on the rise (he speaks of having friends in all corners of the globe, he's being offered major movie roles, he's enjoying the unencumbered freedom to travel at will), leaving Isaac hopelessly envious.

Lemon is stuffed with so many genuine quirks, side-splitting humor (never obvious though, rather the kind of "jokes" that creep up to you sideways), and moments of insight that a laundry list of plot elements won't do it justice. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea, for sure, but adventurous viewers will be thrilled to find a "short" feature (in an era of bloated, two-hour-plus indulgence in seemingly all genres) that doesn't waste a moment. It's a story about an outsider questing for acceptance in a world he has yet to find his place within. You've seen that story before, but probably not told quite this way. As Isaac suffers uncomfortably through a gathering with his family (including nice turns by the likes of Rhea Perlman and David Paymer), singing a forced-joyous Jewish-themed variation on "99 Bottles of Beer," its clear he doesn't identify with the culture in which he was raised. His strained attempts to "fit in" with a black family after initiating a new relationship with associate Cleo (Nia Long) reveal that a core of misanthropy that knows no conventional bounds.

Magnolia Home Entertainment's DVD (again, sadly no Blu-ray edition but the yellow keepcase is pretty snazzy) includes an selection of deleted scenes and outtakes plus interviews with writer-director Janicza Bravo and writer-star Brett Gelman. Lemon is an unconventional, bold trip into something funny, sad, irritating, and ultimately rewarding—don't miss it.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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