‘Lemon’ DVD Review: Eccentric But Potent Humor
Lemon, a 2017 comedy-drama, was Janicza Bravo’s first full-feature film. Its script was written by her and her husband, Brett Gelman. Gelman also portrays the film’s lead, Isaac Lachmann.
In an exclusive interview with uInterview, Bravo and Gelman expressed the hope that people “will feel less lonely in their own fears of failure and mediocrity” after seeing the movie. So, how well does Lemon hit its intended sweet spot?
The film’s first 25 minutes or so are effectively spent selling us on its core facet: its protagonist leads a substandard life. To start, his blind girlfriend Romana (portrayed by Judy Greer) grows progressively more distant from him, citing his lack of advancement in the ten years they’ve been together. As we see later, Isaac’s relationships with his family members isn’t any more fulfilling.
Isaac is an actor and acting teacher, though neither endeavor is yielding any success. Although Isaac’s acting agent (Jeff Garlin) enthusiastically secures him a few auditions, they’re all for unsightly advertisements, one of which used Isaac as a representative for hepatitis C and in another he feigned having adult incontinence. His acting class grinds along similarly, with the glimpses we see of it being of Isaac picking favorites between two of his students; Alex (Michael Cera) is initially his preferred understudy over Tracey (Gillian Jacobs), and Isaac makes little effort to hide his disdain for the latter.
Alex, however, soon eclipses Isaac by procuring a headlining role in an upcoming production, provoking his jealousy. Our balding lead subsequently discards his superficial friendship with Alex, childishly spray-painting a racial slur on his car under the cloak of night. Isaac does later invite Isaac over for dinner, though his passive aggressive nature escalates throughout the evening, cumulating in him threatening his former pupil. Romana arrives shortly thereafter, and the couple break up. Isaac handles this with an equivalent level of maturity, noting to her how he could’ve killed her.
The DVD’s case explains the definition of “lemon,” meaning a defective product. The film’s sour protagonist is emblematic of this to a fault; Isaac’s social ineptitude is uncomfortable to watch, from his failed attempts at making small talk with a woman to his dysfunctional family. Lemon – a few gags notwithstanding – doesn’t supplement its spectacle with levity or humor that resonates unless one has eccentric taste. If Lemon’s off-brand humor doesn’t click with you, the film then becomes overbearing with its glumness. The movie is unquestionably potent, but it’s hard to recommend.
However, while the 83 minutes spent watching Isaac rue his existence ultimately felt inconsequential and unrewarding, there is a nonconformity to Lemon I can appreciate. The film’s scenes spanning Isaac’s acting classes are enjoyable, showcasing interesting subject matter, and the musical scene where Isaac’s family sings “One Million Matzo Balls” was legitimately funny, particularly thanks to Shiri Appleby’s character. As a whole, the cast performed well, with Nia Long working particularly well in her role as Cleo, a woman with whom Isaac has a brief romance with. Gelman’s performance was befitting of his role, and the thesis behind the film – even if I believe it wasn’t efficaciously communicated – is certainly a compelling one. Whatever Bravo’s next project is, I will keep an eye on it.
The DVD’s bonus features are rather sparse. The first option is an assortment of bloopers and deleted scenes, which is worth a watch for those who enjoyed the main course. The more interesting bonuses are the two interviews with Bravo and Gelman, wherein they discuss their experiences with the film, from their visions to working with the crew. These videos span 14 and 8 minutes, respectively. Lemon‘s theatrical trailer is included, too, as well as trailers for other Magnolia Pictures movies.