Janicza Bravo's Lemon
Sundance + Rotterdam 2017. Starring and co-written by Brett Gelman.
As Flavorwire's Jason Bailey explains, Isaac is "an actor, sort of, and an acting teacher, but a very bad one; the funniest scenes are the borderline abusive scene work he does with poor Gillian Jacobs and Michael Cera, who’s spot-on as a wildly pretentious thesp who spouts nonsense like 'I’ve been doing a lot of animal work.' But it’s mostly about Isaac’s breakup with his blind girlfriend (Judy Greer), his career woes, and a Passover dinner with his family that’s one of the oddest family gatherings I’ve ever seen, in a movie or real life."
For Brandon Harris, dispatching to Filmmaker from Rotterdam, "this is a remarkably humorous study of the contours white-American mediocrity and shame can take when combined with mental illness (the particular variant of which the film never directly specifies). That it is also the product of a black woman from Panama working in a Los Angeles setting with a mostly white principal cast marks it as the rarest of birds. Featuring wonderful supporting turns from actors as reliable and underutilized as David Paymer, Xander Berkeley and Rhea Perlman, Lemon is a film that deserves a big audience stateside."
Not everyone agrees. Variety's Owen Gleiberman "would respectfully submit that in an otherwise astutely cast movie, she has made the mistake of thinking that there’s more to [Gelman's] screen presence than there, in fact, is. The central joke of Lemon feels very private: 'Look at what an unappealing cad this guy is.' Well, yes, but make him an interesting unappealing cad."
"One of Lemon’s stylistic flourishes is to crank up the music when things are about to go badly for Isaac, a mock-monumentalism honoring the man who can’t achieve anything," writes David D'Arcy for Screen. "The fanfare feels like a twist on Walter Mitty fantasies, a grand soundtrack belied by what we witness on the screen. When all else fails, there are always bodily functions, and Lemon stages a comic gross-out that shouldn’t be given away."
"Lemon is a one-of-a-kind treat that, by ending almost too soon, follows the old showbiz principle of leaving ‘em wanting more," writes the Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy. "Bravo’s debut feature occasionally recalls the work of the great Jacques Tati in its precision physicality. But the film forges a completely distinctive personality of its own through its characters’ perverse behavior and neuroses, exacting framing and editing, wildly imaginative use of unanticipated music and its unusual ethnic blending, from Jamaican L.A. culture to strife-ridden Jewish family ritual."
"If studio comedies could achieve one tenth this level of craft the world would be a lot more interesting," adds Vince Mancini at Uproxx.
"Lemon is a scarily bleak, yet wickedly funny journey through mundane hell and I cannot stress enough what a great pleasure it was getting to connect with its creators at Sundance shortly after its world premiere," writes Zach Gayne, introducing his interview for ScreenAnarchy. More interviews with Bravo: Kate Erbland (IndieWire), Filmmaker and Women and Hollywood.
For the full 2017 Sundance on Fandor experience, go here.