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By Kim Voynar Voynar@moviecitynews.com

Sundance Review: The Lie


Josh Leonard’s adaptation of The Lie, T. Coraghessan Boyle’s 2008 New Yorker short story, is an excellent take on the tale of an idealistic young couple whose lives have veered away from the values they had when they first met, after an unexpected pregnancy forces them to shoulder the responsibility of parenthood.


Leonard directed, co-wrote the script and stars as Lonnie, a guy who’s feeling depressed and trapped … not by his wife Clover (Jess Weixler) and baby Xana, so much as by the choices he and Clover have made since she got pregnant. It’s an interesting story for Leonard to choose to adapt, and an even more interesting choice of roles for him to take on.
Once idealistic and filled with fresh, youthful enthusiasm, this young couple who once reveled in freedom and being in nature, who got married in a pagan wedding ceremony performed by Lonnie’s best friend, the free-spirited Tank (indie regular Mark Webber), now finds themselves in a serious rut. Lonnie loathes his soul-sucking job editing — not even editing, just logging, really — for a verbally abusive boss in a building that looks like a set for a prison movie. Clover’s about to finish law school, and the passionate free-spirited woman Lonnie fell in love with is wearing her hair in a neat bun and talking about taking a high-paying job for an Evil Drug Company. They’re both so busy and worn out from trying to get ahead, they barely have time to connect with their infant daughter, much less each other. Life is a heavy weight on Lonnie’s shoulders, and he doesn’t know what to do about it.

What he knows he doesn’t want to do is go to work today, so he drops off the baby at her sitter’s and calls in. He’s out of sick days and personal days, so he tells a little white lie to get out of work. A couple days later, still unable to force himself to go to work, he escalates the lie he’s told in a shocking moment that he can’t take back, and now he’s really screwed.

In Humpday, Leonard played the free-spirit BFF opposite Mark Duplass’s tied-down married man. Here he’s the guy who’s made life choices that limit his options, and it’s Webber’s Tank who’s the voice of reason here, telling his old pal in no uncertain terms that he needs to grow up already and accept responsibility for those choices. Lonnie loves his wife and baby, he doesn’t want to abandon them. He just needs for things to get back to where they were before, to a place where he and Clover are living their values through more than buying organic diapers and veggies, to a time when they had fun and laughed and danced for no reason.

I’m not sure how well this film resonates for people who are in their late 20s or early 30s and don’t have kids, but for me, every moment felt real and honest in the way it conveys how it feels when you wake up one day and you have a kid (or more than one kid) and you’ve made choices for the sake of lifestyle and health insurance and 401K plans, but when you look at yourself in the mirror you no longer know who the hell you are.

It’s a wretched feeling, truly, and you don’t want to blame the innocent baby you brought into the world for the mess your life has become, but damn. No one, not your parents, not television shows, not glossy parenting magazines, ever told you it would be like this, and it’s hard, so hard to just hold onto a sliver of who you were before you slipped the mantle of parenthood on your shoulders. And you have to find, somehow, a way to get yourself back — and to get yourself back to a place where you can treasure that responsibility rather than resent it, where you can hold onto a piece of who you are while still being Mommy or Daddy.

Leonard (or one of his co-writers) changed the ending of the source material — or more accurately, they expanded the story beyond where the short story ends and imagined what happened after that, and I have to say, the scene between Lonnie and Clover at the end is as good, if not better than, what T.C. Boyle wrote in that short story. And that, my friends, is saying a lot, because Boyle is no slouch when it comes to the written word.

I heard that much of what Lonnie says to Clover in that scene was improvised, and if that’s actually the case it’s even more impressive because it’s just so fucking raw and heartfelt and anguished and honest, and totally without the pretense, preciousness, or the rough edges that tend to permeate the low-budget indie.

This is an assured directorial debut that goes beyond what we often see out of indie filmmakers; there’s obviously some improvisation going on, but much like Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, it feels more an attempt to evoke Mike Leigh than a mumblecore aesthetic. And believe me when I say, I mean that in a good way.

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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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