February 6, 2009 -- The first hour of “Lifelines” (AKA Wherever You Are) is as powerful as any movie I've seen in a long time. There are also some pretty powerful scenes later on in the film. It then ends abruptly and leaves one of its main story arcs hanging. An independent film dealing with a dysfunctional suburban family is almost a cliché, but this particular psychological drama is better than most.
This kind of movie is a tradition dating back to “Ordinary People,” and “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” if not earlier. Like those films, this one features impeccable performances and a dazzling script. It is exceptionally well-crafted by first-time writer-director Rob Margolies. The story follows a family, 24-like, through one very long, trying day of conflict and revelations. Ira and Nancy Bernstein (played by Josh Pais of “Synecdoche, New York” and Jane Adams of “The Wackness,” respectively) are getting a divorce, but they don't bother to tell their children about it until the the whole family arrives at a psychiatrist's office, suprise!
As the psychiatrist, Dr. Livingston (played by Joe Morton of “American Gangster”) tries to unravel the mess dumped in his lap, he discovers that the impending divorce is the least of the problems this family is having. There is a hidden nest of destructive secrets being kept by every member of the family and he has landed right in the middle of the turmoil. The youngest son of the Bernsteins, Jacob Kogan (who plays Spock as a boy in the 2009 Star Trek movie) and their oldest son, played by Robbie Sublett, both share a terrible secret that is tearing at them both. The middle child, Meghan (played by Dreama Walker of “Sex and the City: The Movie”) shares a completely different terrible secret with her mother.
The father is the most normal of the bunch. He's gay and has just come out of the closet, shocking the rest of the family. That is nothing compared to what is going on in the rest of the family. Emotions erupt like volcanoes in Dr. Livingston's office. The first hour of the film looks a lot like a play, but it opens up after that. In the first hour, Dr. Livingston uncovers secrets and the various family members confront their secrets and they confront him, too, for having the audacity to uncover these secrets. These are very powerful scenes, involving both group and individual psychiatric sessions. Later in the film, Dr. Livingston finds that he is deeper in this mess than he first thought he was. This is an exceptional first effort by Writer-Director Rob Margolies. I look forward to Margolies' next film, “In the Meantime.” This film rates a B.
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