Lemon Sky (1988)
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In a way, this is an update of STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. A sensitive person comes into a household dominated by an alpha male. In STREETCAR, Blanche is destroyed. In LEMON SKY (which is set in the California of the late Fifties), you get the feeling that Alan has gone through something traumatic, but the Sixties are coming and Alan will find his place in a transformed society that will allow him to prevail.
I've talked to Lanford Wilson a little about this play and this adaptation. He had little to do with the film and expected not much and was thrilled with how well it turned out. Kevin Bacon is at the peak of his form here. I believe it was on this project that he met Kyra Sedgwick, whom he later married. I'm a great admirer of Lindsay Crouse, and the work here ranks with some of the best she's done.
By the by, I saw the original production in New York, and Alan was played by a very young and remarkable Christopher Walken.
It is fifties America and its dream and promise is in full ascendancy and nowhere better than the Golden State, California. Alan (Kevin Bacon) has come from Nebraska to live with his father whom he hasn't seen since he was five. Alan is there to go to school and work part time as well as get to reconnect with dad and get to know his new family. On the surface all is well with the family in this sun drenched land of opportunity but underneath they all hold dark secrets that over the course of the play fester and eventually implode this all American brood in the film's climactic moment.
Technically Director Jan Egleson plays it safe with his camera, flatly filming the fabulous fifties kitsch (including a 55 Chevy) set with little or no movement outside of the opening tracking shot of the home that economically establishes place and character. It then bogs down in cliché character development telegraphing most of what's up ahead.
Kevin Bacon gives an excellently measured and powerful performance as Allan. His search to find himself in a generation of conformity evolving from impish teen to social outcast is the film's saving grace. Tom Atkins as the bullying and predatory father imparts a convincing an uncomfortable ugliness. The three lead actresses (Lindsay Crouse, Kyra Sedgewick and Welker White) come across as heavily medicated zombies. Given their talent one wonders if it is Egleson's feeble attempt to define them as battered women.
Lanford Wilson's play is a tepid entry from the endless exposes of societal and domestic hypocrisy. While it might make for a mildly thought provoking and emotional night at the theatre which has the capability of putting the audience in the kitchen it becomes lifeless upon being transferred to screen. Unlike Bergman who was a master at filming memory plays such as this Egleson fails to get his camera fully involved or explore it's possibilities and Lemon Sky gets lost in the clouds.
i recognize this family absolutely, and i am betting many others will as well, because the people in it are not all that unusual or rare. i was a bit put off by the netflix description: "a troubled young man trying to come to terms with his abusive hardscrabble upbringing." what a load of bunk; i truly think this comes damn close to how many of us were raised, and it wasn't hardscrabble - it was middle class.
the viewpoint shifts in and out as the audience gets talked to directly some of the time, but i didn't find there to be any confusion. it is masterfully presented, smooth as the proverbial baby's butt. all the actors realize their roles with aplomb. they are the parts they play.
get it and see it. you may not like it at all, but give it a chance. there is a lot of pain in the truth here. don e.