JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Lifelines (Director/Writer: Rob Margolies) - February 4, 2009
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Lifelines

4 4
91 min.

Coming to grips with the sin of repression

If writer/director/producer Rob Margolies’ first feature is any indication, then another exceptional talent has emerged and is ready for the next big project.

Lifelines overflows with carefully interwoven dark moments from the past that in one incredible day take every member of the Bernstein family to places they’d much rather avoid.

The constantly squabbling brood begins another rancorous morning belittling and cursing each other—a collective defence seen in varying degrees with any home that boasts more than two inhabitants.

Ira (Josh Pais gamely takes on the role with a Billy Crystal tone if not the master’s comedic sense) is a successful dermatologist who has lost control of his wife and children until his recent self-discovery which promises to enliven the dinner table if only he can turn off his constant verbiage and succinctly share his life-altering news. Playing Nancy, Jane Adams scores a perfect 10 as the overworked, verbally abused mom yet can’t find the real inner-angst that has been her constant despair ‘lo these many years.

Robbie Sublett renders the role of eldest son Michael with remarkable maturity and complete understanding of the twin deficits of a humiliating stutter and secret knowledge of witnessing a horrific act. Fuelled by copious amounts of terror and shame, he remains mute until the domino effect of honesty ripples unstoppably throughout the beleaguered clan.

Meghan (Dreama Walker digs into her lines with zest) has the filthiest mouth and cutest boyfriend but drapes a constant shroud of insecurity over her hidden-away truth in hopes that bitch-slapping her mother with words will, somehow, sooth her fucking pain.

Young Jacob Kogan, as Spencer, struggles with Attention Deficit Disorder and, hilariously and metaphorically, is forced to take his medicine with a snake. At one point, he is literally chased down then handcuffed by his dad-bribed siblings so that the family can leave for a rare family outing only to return forever changed.

Their destination is the office of the marvellously named Dr. Livingstone (Joe Morton excels in every scene) whose skills as a psychiatrist will be tested like never before.

Margolies has worked overtime to sculpt the opening sequence depicting the kin folk from hell. By the time the pancakes have been abandoned, it’s more than abundantly clear that a new level of dysfunctionality has been defined (Robert Miller’s score—tastefully effused with a few measures of Bizet’s “Habañera”—is fun and fresh, keeping the bickering moving forward with bite). Once in group therapy, Dad’s big announcement is notable for its deft description (“a forced life”) and unabashed humour (“You’re banging everybody’s favourite Kindergarten teacher?”) but slips into a searing emotional tone when the highly skilled shrink elicits the whispered source of Michael’s speech impediment during one of the solo probes where doctor-patient confidentiality pushes against dangerous boundaries.

All of this is put onto the record by David Sperling’s thoughtful, wide-ranging cinematography (magically sprinkled with a few cut-away edits that wordlessly speak volumes). Still, anyone who has ever been “on the couch” knows that several revelations induced by Dr. Livingstone would routinely take months if not years to uncover. In some ways, the film is overpowered by too much truth from too many sources—particularly the final surprise that weakens the already generous suspension of disbelief.

Quibbles aside, Margolies’ strength comes to the fore on several occasions where his script, insight and direction are at one with the actors’ ability, resulting in waves of real emotion that separates the boys from the men in the deeply personal art of filmmaking. JWR

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Director/Writer - Rob Margolies
Cinematographer - David Sperling
Original Music - Robert Miller
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