Friday, June 13, 2014

Lullaby: Movie Review

Thoughtful questions and ideas give way to a simple family drama.

Patriarch Robert Lowenstein (Richard Jenkins) is dying. However, as his son Jonathan (Garrett Hedlund) informs us, he always says he’s dying and who knows if it’s going to stick this time. Suggesting that he could be dying or he could be lying, or his son is lying, and somebody is being insensitive, and somebody is going to have to figure out their place in life sooner rather than later. And thus begins a rather interesting angle for a grieving family drama.   2014

Directed by: Andrew Levitas

Screenplay by: Andrew Levitas

Starring: Garrett Hedlund, Richard Jenkins, Amy Adams and Jessica Brown Findlay

This time Robert is taking himself off life support, so he really is going to die this time whether his family likes it or not. They don’t like it either way. Jonathan is a 26-year-old turned 16-year-old who is still seemingly living out his rebellious teenage years and rejected his father and his money years ago. Daughter Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay) is the successful one, a law school student who no longer needs daddy’s money. So he informs them that he’s given all his money away and there is no inheritance for them. So the already suspiciously greedy children are about to become more greedy. Except they don’t. This is where the film trades in typical clichés for a more thoughtful approach.

The question is asked if Robert is of sane mind. He must be both terminal and sane for doctor assisted suicide. That is a question for us to ask and answer. Just as the adult children have to figure out what their position really is. Karen decides to take the moral stance on doctor assisted suicide, but then her moral judgement is called into question. And a simple approach is made more complicated with real characters in a real-life situation.

The cast that has been assembled in “Lullaby” is fantastic; ranging from the underrated Richard Jenkins to the rising-star Garrett Hedlund to the popular and über-talented Amy Adams to the underrated Jessica Brown Findlay. The film also manages to work in a group of cancer-stricken children as comic relief. Surprisingly it really does fit.

Adams plays Emily, a former girlfriend of our protagonist Jonathan. She has three scenes where she offers a humorous and caring touch-point to help us to get to know the lost and meandering Jonathan. Hedlund gave a tremendous performance going from hardened and cynical, to accepting and open, to lost and grieving, to found and grieving. He was funny, sympathetic and way more caring than he would want people to know at the beginning.

As we find the characters, particularly Jonathan, Emily and Karen, we then lose the thoughtful questions and ideas that the film opened with. It becomes, pure and simply, a straight family drama dealing with the loss of a family member. It definitely gets heavy at times. I never felt that it dragged because the prolongued scenes really seemed to work in this environment. But as is frequently the case with family dramas, it gets sad, a little melodramatic, and overly schmaltzy. It can be a little hard to digest, but if you have welcomed these characters into your heart, then “Lullaby” will charm you and move you.
Best Lesser-known of 2014