Combustible Celluloid
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With: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Nia Long, Shiri Appleby, Fred Melamed, Gillian Jacobs, Rhea Perlman, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Jeff Garlin, Marla Gibbs, Rex Lee, Jon Daly, Elizabeth De Razzo, Ashley Silverman, Hank Chen, David Paymer
Written by: Brett Gelman, Janicza Bravo
Directed by: Janicza Bravo
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 83
Date: 08/18/2017

Lemon (2017)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Sour Power

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This weird comedy, based somewhat on the experiences of real-life couple Brett Gelman and Janicza Bravo, is as deadpan, absurd, and surreal as a movie can get, part off-putting, and part intriguing.

In Lemon, Isaac (Brett Gelman) is undergoing an existential crisis. His blind girlfriend Ramona (Judy Greer) of ten years has begun to distance herself from him, and seems on the verge of leaving him. The acting classes he teaches are stressful; his star student, Alex (Michael Cera), is getting jobs all over the world, while Tracy (Gillian Jacobs) disappoints them both.

Outside class, however, Isaac's acting career is sinking, despite landing a job for a rather disturbing commercial. A Passover dinner with his insane family sends him over the edge, and in an attempt to right himself, he begins dating a beautiful Jamaican-American woman, Cleo (Nia Long). But an afternoon barbecue with her family brings out more of the same absurdities and sends Isaac back to the drawing board.

As Lemon begins, the Isaac character — played by Gelman with thinning hair, an unruly beard, and large glasses — comes across as dour and depressing and miserable, and not anyone that we'd like to hang around with. It's easy to understand why the people in his life would be upset with or disillusioned by him, and it's tempting to join them, and ditch him for good.

But as the movie goes along, director Bravo's unique rhythms, i.e. her wide, empty spaces and seemingly arhythmic, premature cutting, start to provide a kind of sly, slow-burn humor. Their characters' talk is bizarre and exasperating, but Bravo seems to know it by the way she truncates their blather. She begins to create music and laughter by the way she chops into scenes, leaving them undone.

A Passover sing-a-long to "A Million Matzoh Balls" is a turning point, and certainly Nia Long's Cleo adds a soulful center to the movie's second half. By the time Lemon wraps up, it feels less sour and more bracing, like lemonade.

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