Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 11 March 2009
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is a Math/English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
A dysfunctional family in a large, middle-class home seeks counseling for a myriad of problems that are kept well-hidden from the world. The Bernstein family is traditional and nuclear. There is a mother, a father, and their three biological children. Full of tension, anxiety, guilt, regrets and hostility, the family unit seethes under one roof, each wrapped in their own problem-filled bubble until they encounter intensely personal intersections with each other in explosive, sometimes comedic ways.
The palpable frustration touches everyone with differing outcomes. Father Ira (Josh Pais) is an unhappy head of household with a bombshell of a secret. Wife Nancy (Jane Adams) is a drab, frazzled hausfrau, all of her anxiety seemingly reflected in her messy hair. The three children each have their own issues. Michael (Robbie Sublett) stutters incomprehensibly when he gets nervous or excited. Meghan (Dreama Walker) can barely conceal an ongoing, bordering-on-unreasonable hatred for her mother. Spencer (Jacob Kogan) has ADD, must be forced into taking his medication, and likes to run away so often that the family has developed a ritual for his capture that includes the use of handcuffs.
Ira is a kindly indulgent peace-keeping father with a destructive secret which will change the already tense, fractured, and contentious existence of the family. Nancy is a long-suffering wife and mother, existing at the edge of despair and possible meltdown. Eldest son Michael embodies all the worry angst and guilt of the flawed collective unit while 16-year-old Meghan is the quintessential sullen teen, precociously seductive and brandishing a vicious, lacerating tongue toward Nancy. 12–year-old Spencer’s smart mouth shows he is overly bright and observant for his twelve years.
All of the family members have secrets beyond the lawn of their nice normal home. A group therapy session with Dr. Livingston (Joe Morton) reveals a startling interconnected backstory of tragedy, devotion, and misunderstanding. No one emerges unscathed while the confessions unfold and the insights emerge. Even Dr. Livingston is keeping secrets while unlocking them, maintaining a control that is elusive to the members of his newly acquired chaotic clan.
Writer/director Rob Margolies is fortunate to have a splendidly talented cast – whether pleading, sniping, or communicating through clenched jaws and vocal chords perched on a shriek. The actors who portray the Bernsteins are so believable it’s tempting to think that they are ad libbing from their own lives.
Frustration levels and brewing tensions are pitch perfect, especially Jane Adams’ Nancy, whose dishrag tremblings convey either hopelessness or a deadly, thus-far suppressed explosion. Josh Pais conveys Ira’s ambivalence in measured words and logic. Robbie Sublett hits all the right notes of someone shouldering a years-long burden of guilt and shame. Dreama Walker creates a recognizable teen whose wounds are avenged by her rapier tongue. Jacob Kogan is startlingly intense for the baby of the family, at once vulnerable and knowing.
Joe Morton excels as the wise and weary Dr. Livingston, infusing each scene he is in with an urgency and poignancy that coaxes important and sometimes inflammatory words from his unwilling participants.
Margolies’ debut feature is a tragicomic exploration of a traditional middle-class American family, if there is such a structure, whose psychic wounds are barely smoothed over from real and imagined assaults of the past. Though only 25 years of age, Margolies manages to convey real angst and painful discovery with his skillful handling of the subject matter. He is able to illustrate how well-intentioned people become the sum total of what they’ve experienced through years of having learned it gradually, instead of simply deciding to become forlorn, harried, hateful, anxious or obnoxious.
Lifelines navigates the choppy waters of relationships, whether chosen or naturally formed by genetics, and then delves into its progression as an unnatural state of being.
Exploring what makes a family the maddening collection of randomly selected organisms that they are, Lifelines spares no one. Villains and heroes live under one roof, bound by blood and expectations, engaged in silent wars, especially when the role-playing goes haywire.
If you don’t exactly see yourself in one of the Bernsteins, you will certainly know someone like them. You’ll wince and cringe, but nod your head while doing it because the familiarity will be overwhelming, frustrating and raw.