In "Lemon," Brett Gelman plays Isaac, a loser whose world is crashing around him.
In most films, the audience could feel some sympathy for such a character. But in this maddeningly odd character study, you wouldn't be wrong for thinking Isaac needs a good kick in the pants.
Director Janicza Bravo, who has directed episodes of FX's "Atlanta" and HBO's "Divorce," has a keen eye and style. But "Lemon" lacks substance. Scenes hang, going from awkward to excruciating, leaving little room for laughs or humanity in between.
Isaac is a theater teacher who gets cast in an ad campaign for Hepatitis C, which is darkly funny on paper, but not near as funny as it could be in the film. In between gigs, his blind girlfriend of 10 years (Judy Greer) decides to break up with him.
Isaac starts to lose it. He pulls a knife on an acting buddy (Michael Cera). He gets advice from a family friend (David Paymer). He attempts to and fails to watch his neighbor's birds. He falls in love with a makeup artist named Cleo (Nia Long).
It's in scenes with Cleo and Isaac that the film wakes up from its hipster haze. The film is dedicated to showing how shallow each character is, but it doesn't cut deep enough. All of these characters, save Cleo, live in a land without consequence, and when they chance on someone or something that is real, they run away.
These aforementioned moments are presented with a wink, too. In another director's hands, there would be stakes, a reason to care about all these elements. As is, "Lemon" is full of scenes that just sit there, poking at you: "Hey, do you get it? We are making fun of actors. Hey, do you see that? His family is crazy, too. Hey, here's some subdued racism that we can get away with because we're on the west coast."
To say this is a bitter lemon would be giving that pun and the film too much credit. Despite a great cast and design, "Lemon" is just another indie comedy with nothing to say.
STARRING: Brett Gelman, Judy Greer, Michael Cera, Nia Long and Jon Daly
DIRECTOR: Janicza Bravo
RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 23 mins.
MPAA RATING: Not Rated (intended for mature audiences, has some profanity, sexual content and drug use)
Excellent (****), Good (***), Fair (**), Poor (*)