(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: REVOLUTIONARY ROAD is not the only film this season that features a family being split to the tune of bitter argument. In LIFELINES a hugely dysfunctional family spends a day with a family counselor. It is a day of cutting comments, raw nerves, telling observations, and eventually some understanding. While the day does not prove to be a panacea, it does let the family understand each other better and finds a hidden vein of concern. The story produces a gamut of emotions from comic to tragic. This is a moving human drama. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

The Bernstein family, highly dysfunctional, is composed of five people, each of whom cannot get along with the other four. We see them on what seems to be a typical morning with each of the children a different problem for the mother Nancy (played by Jane Adams). Each of the children has his own reason for bitterness and that hostility dominates his reactions. Michael (Robbie Sublett) is the eldest and withdrawn into his shell, stuttering with self- doubt. He may be the most able member of the family. Young Spencer (Jacob Kogen) is twelve, hyperactive, and but for the foul mouth behaves like a spoiled five-year-old. The biggest pain is the sixteen-year-old daughter Meghan (Dreama Walker) who has several names for her mother, all of which end in the word "bitch" and seem to fit Meghan better than Nancy. Father Ira (Josh Pais), is as ineffective as Nancy at controlling the savages. Central to all is Nancy, the mother who is shells-shocked and crumbling under the strain.

We discover that today is not typical at all. Ira (Josh Pais), the father, is going to announce he is leaving the family and going to live with his boyfriend. To prepare the family for the announcement and for the giant changes that are coming, the Bernsteins are seeing a family counselor, Dr. Livingston (Joe Morton). This healing step is years late for this family. In the beginning Ira plays the game of being over-cooperative, trying to say exactly what the counselor wants to hear. Nancy simpers along, and children do what they can to derail the process. Soon truths are being told and we see beyond the annoying shells these people have chosen to inhabit all the way to the hurt and vulnerability inside.

Late in the film there is a highly unlikely coincidence that gives Dr. Livingston a personal connection to this family. But it is a real contrivance. Morton as Livingston, with his shelves full of toys and puzzles and his hair braided in cornrows, always seems a little too good and a little too much in control of himself to be true, at least true to his real self. He smoothly plays games to get his clients to reveal the source of their pain. Later in the film we learn something unexpected about him but it only serves to make him seem more noble. The film raises unreasonable expectations of family counselors much in the way CSI raises expectations for crime scene investigation.

Newcomer writer/director/producer Rob Margolies kept to a minimum of settings so LIFELINES is essentially a stage play, opening out only in the last third of the film. A restaurant dinner for the family is the most enjoyable and witty section of the film, if at the same time no less dark than the rest of the story. This film is touching and occasionally powerful. If one can get by the early negative characterizations, it eventually rewards the viewer. I rate LIFELINES a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10. Any filmmaker who starts his film showing a naked man sitting on a toilet needs to have a really good reason. LIFELINES is a good film, but that pointless touch shows more license than taste. On the other hand, I have lived in central New Jersey for thirty-two years and David Sperling's photography makes it look more beautiful than I realized that it is.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2009 Mark R. Leeper