Lemon Sky Movie Review

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You can't choose your family. And even if you could, chances are all the good ones would already be taken. So, as young Alan (Kevin Bacon) learns in this film presentation of Lanford Wilson's play, you might as well try to squeak by until the dysfunction reaches critical mass.

Alan is a hopeful young man in a hopeless situation. After years estranged from his father Doug (Tom Atkins), he heads to San Diego for a long overdue reunion with the hope of starting anew. But as soon as he arrives, he sees that things are different in this late-1950s household. His new stepmother Ronnie (Lindsay Crouse), is warm and welcoming, but the house is already full and brimming with conflict.

In addition to two younger brothers who he hardly knows, the family has taken on two teenage girls who are wards of the state. Penny (Welker White) is smart and well behaved, but Carol (Kyra Sedgwick) is dangerous and full of sexual energy. Alan's first orders on arriving at his new home: Keep your hands off your "sisters."

It doesn't take long for tension to build until things go awry at Dysfunction Junction. Not only is Alan barely able to obey the prime directive with regard to Carol and Penny, but it appears Doug is having trouble, too. Throw in the more common attitude clash between a working-class father and his collegiate son, and you've got plenty of volatile material.

With little adaptation from the original stage production, the action of Lemon Sky unfolds through a combination of flashback narrative (most of which occurs mid-scene as the characters pause to face the camera) and standard storytelling. To maintain the sense of stage performance, a unique lighting technique darkens the background and lights the foreground much as we might expect from a theatrical production. The effect is striking, though not always conducive to the experience of the film. In many cases, it completely drops the viewer out of the story and calls too much attention to the metafictional experience of watching the film. While this is clearly intentional, it is nevertheless distracting and gets a little annoying from time to time.

Even so, Lemon Sky is a postmodernist's paradise, strategically set against the very era in which the movement rose to prominence in American art. More than a narrative of a story, it is a narrative about the creation of narrative and an inquiry into the values that compel us to build fictional representations of life in the first place. Throughout the film, each character builds his or her own fiction, composing a variety of separate and conflicting narratives as pleas for sympathy from the imaginary (yet, in this case, real) audience of their lives.

Whether, as an artistic whole, Lemon Sky is a success will depend entirely upon one's own view of postmodern storytelling. Those who enjoy the self-referential ride are bound to have a good time and those who do not will find themselves either mind-numbingly bored or angry. In either case, it is hardly the film's fault. This movie accomplishes what it sets out to with only a few subtle hiccups, and for that it should be applauded.

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Lemon Sky Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG-13, 1988

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