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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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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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