the sensation-saturated world of modern filmmaking, it is easy for a sweet,
gentle, eccentric soul like Dear Lemon Lima to slip through the
After all, it is a coming-of-age drama about an eternally upbeat but
left-of-center Alaskan nerdy girl who tries to find her place in a very
offbeat school all the while weathering the dissolution of her long-held
platonic crush with a totally full-of-himself local kid.
Dear Lemon Lima
is the writing and
directing debut of a mostly unknown filmmaker. The movie was actually made
in 2009 and has been two years making it to the cinemas. It is a longer
version of a mostly-unknown 2007 short film by the same name.
is about an odd location smack dab in the middle of the Palin state –
although in all fairness, the arts-centric private school shown here is
about as far away as you can get from the gun-totin’ hockey-mom world of
Wasilla. The movie puts a microscope on a part of life that is awkward and
occasionally hard to get nostalgic about.
cast is also mostly unknown. The two closest things to name stars here both
merely have smallish supporting roles: Meaghan Jette Martin (star of the
series 10 Things I Hate About You and the recent made-for-video
Mean Girls 2) as an empathetic cheerleader, and current
Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actress Melissa Leo
of The Fighter (ed. Note: Leo ended up winning the Oscar less that
two weeks before Lemon Lima’s limited release) – who plays the
uptight and overly protective mother of a sickly schoolboy.
rest of the cast has a decent amount of faces that you know that you’ve seen
– but most of whom you’ll have a bit of trouble placing. Some of these are
Beth Grant, Elaine Hendrix and my personal favorite rediscovery here, the
wonderfully deadpan Vanessa Marano – who I was eventually able to place as
the girl who had played Luke’s daughter April on Gilmore Girls.
So, no, Dear Lemon Lima isn’t built for box office
speed. In fact, it is rather inevitable that this film won’t even get a
decimal point of the audience take of – oh, say, Vanessa Hudgens’
much-more-obvious and focus-group-programmed teen-angst
film Beastly, which is getting a much wider opening on the same
weekend. I’m not sure what that tells us about our society, but it probably
isn’t a good thing.
Because, with the exception of one ill-conceived and overly melodramatic
plot turn, Dear Lemon Lima is actually a charmingly smart, funny and
idiosyncratic at look at life’s outcasts.
Writer/director Suzi Yoonessi has obviously been somewhat inspired by the
peculiarly funny and insightful works of Wes Anderson (most specifically
Rushmore) – but she brings a much more sensitive eye to her characters.
Also, the lead character is much more charismatic and imaginative and
refuses to wallow in self-pity.
Dear Lemon Lima
also rides on one of the most promising young performances in recent
memory. Savanah Wiltfong’s lead performance is her first role ever on film
or television and it is stunning for its lack of guile and thespian bad
habits. Really, someone sign this girl up again. She is that good.
Wiltfong plays Vanessa Lemor, a young teen suburban Alaskan girl who is has
a huge crush on her long-time best friend Phillip (Shayne Topp), but he has
unloaded the “just friends” speech on her. Vanessa is offered a scholarship
to Phillip’s exclusive private-school due to her half-Indian background –
despite the fact that her long-absentee father was the Indian half and she
has no interest in the man or his culture. Still, she decides to take the
scholarship in order to keep an eye on Phillip.
never quite know what Vanessa sees in Phillip – from the very beginning the
guy seems like a bit of a tool – but with Wiltfong’s subtle work it is
fascinating to see her slowly seeing the guy for what he is really like.
certain ways, this part of Dear Lemon Lima is a slightly more
successful adaptation of the ideas of Rob Reiner’s recent tween-age romance
Flipped – both are funny and charming but Lemon Lima feels
much less calculated and definitely less Hollywood.
the meantime, Vanessa’s lack of coordination gets her into a group of the
school’s losers – the FUBAR group – and yet she is able to make connections
which help her grow and expand as a young woman.
all leads to a closing school Olympics in which the FUBARs take on Phillip’s
in crowd – a sequence which honestly does go on a bit too long. Still, at
least it is done much more lightheartedly and idiosyncratically than you’d
have any right to expect.
However, other than the fact that the contest went on too long and the
single ill-conceived melodramatic twist which I mentioned earlier, Dear
Lemon Lima is engaging and sweetly sentimental. (I won’t say what the
twist is because I don’t want to be a spoiler, but if you see the movie it
will stick out like a sore thumb.)
is the type of small, slightly odd film that normally gets overlooked, but
with a little audience TLC I could see Dear Lemon Lima
growing a passionate cult following.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2011 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: March 4, 2011.