The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Lullaby is an incredibly earnest film, and that may be its biggest hurdle. Writer/director Andrew Levitas is clearly tackling very personal, heartfelt sentiments here, yet he chooses some of independent cinema's creakiest cliches to do so. That causes the bottom to fall out. It's really a shame, because he's assembled a most impressive cast and shows a respectable willingness to explore the lives of flawed characters. Maybe his footing will be surer – and more original - for his next film.

Garrett Hedlund plays Jonathan Lowenstein, a 26-year-old chain-smoking aspiring musician who has grown estranged from his wealthy family. He returns home to New York upon learning that his father, Robert (Richard Jenkins), is losing his battle to cancer and has asked his doctor (Terrence Howard) to turn off the life support systems and inject him with a fatal dose of painkillers. Jonathan has no real feeling about this; he runs into ex-girlfriend Emily (Amy Adams), who reminds him (and informs us) that he's emotionally closed off. His sister, Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay), is a law student who takes legal measures in an effort to prevent Robert from following through with his plan. This leaves mom Rachel (Anne Archer) stuck in the middle. During his time at the hospital vising his dad, Jonathan meets a teenaged cancer patient named Meredith (Jessica Barden), who helps him begin the process of confronting his father's mortality. But whether he can ever find it within himself to reconnect with Robert – or anyone else in his family – remains to be seen.

Lullaby is a compendium of tropes that will be familiar to anyone who sees a lot of independent films. The characters are of the stock variety. You've got the moody, emotionally closed-off young man; the “Golden Child” sibling with whom he doesn't get along; the perpetually disapproving father he can't forgive; the ex-girlfriend who never stopped loving him despite having moved on; and, of course, the ill child with wisdom and insight beyond her years, whose sheer goodness makes him realize what a dour schmuck he's been his entire adult life. There's even the requisite sassy nurse (Jennifer Hudson), who's on duty day and night, because there's never a shift change in movie hospitals.

The ways in which these characters interact are predictable. Dysfunctional family dramas have been around forever, and Lullaby doesn't find any new approach. The movie studiously sets up little mini-dramas between the characters, but the obvious way they are established makes it immediately clear how they'll resolve themselves. There's not much left at that point except to sit and wait for the story to catch up to you. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Jonathan/Meredith subplot. From the moment Meredith appears onscreen, her dialogue is clearly constructed to help him emotionally liberate himself. She doesn't talk like a real kid, but rather like a self-aware screenwriter. It feels bogus, particularly the way Lullaby tries to bludgeon the tears right out of you when Jonathan eventually reciprocates her kindness.

The actors are terrific across the board, with each of them giving passionate, committed performances. Richard Jenkins, in particular, does fine work as a man who was once a captain of industry and now finds himself facing the end of everything. He meaningfully conveys the idea of a person accepting that time has run out, even as the film itself pulls back from offering any real point of view on the issue of assisted suicide. In fact, the cast is the thing that keeps Lullaby marginally afloat. They act their hearts out while the plot goes through familiar motions.

At the end of the day, Lullaby isn't a bad movie so much as one whose deep desire to be affecting prevents it from accomplishing that goal. The whole thing is just so “on the nose” that it feels fabricated, and therefore never comes close to delivering the kind of impact it's aiming for. When a movie ends with one character singing a song specifically designed to sum up everything we've just seen, you know subtlety isn't its strong suit.

( out of four)

Lullaby is rated R for language and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.