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While "Dear Lemon Lima" may seem too quirky for some viewers, one would
have to be a robot to not enjoy its sweet and simple storyline. The
opening credits are a sequence of animated bunnies, unicorns, rainbows,
and hearts, which might turn off some people, but the doodles are the
artwork of a young girl who will remind you of a little sister you
affectionately roll your eyes at.
The boy who breaks her heart at the beginning is perfectly prep school pretentious, and the rest of the characters are also humorously eccentric. It's easy to embrace their quirkiness because unlike other similar films such as "Juno", these characters seem more realistic, and the dialogue is more natural.
Some aspects seem implausible, as the school places heavy emphasis on multiculturalism and encourages the prominently white student body to familiarize themselves with other cultures. The charming scenes are tempered by heartrending ones, so the film is not all sunshine and rainbows. The plot is predictable , but the film was is never trying to be mysterious or edgy. Writer-director Susie Yoonessi is simply reminding us of what it's like to be young, in love, heartbroken, and unsure of yourself.
Dear Lemon Lima is a film written and directed by Suzi Yoonessi. It's
about a 13 year old girl in Alaska, getting ready to attend an
exclusive private high school. From the very beginning, the film charms
you, with adorable animation and graphics in the frame. They're images
that the main character, Vanessa, uses in her doodles and artwork and
scrapbooking. The tone is whimsical, and with so many interesting and
unique characters in Vanessa's life, it's easy to let your guard down
and get drawn into the fun.
But, do not be fooled. High school is a very serious and scary place. People are cruel to one another. Life is cruel, even if you're a brilliant, sensitive, beautiful girl. And, Vanessa soon finds that her dreams and aspirations might not be the path she will ultimately choose. Melissa Leo, Beth Grant and Eleanor Hutchins are all excellent, as some of the adults in Vanessa's life. But, if the kids aren't believable and worthy of our concern, the film doesn't work. Here, Savanah Wiltfong and the actors and actresses who play her schoolmates capture the joy and pain of teen years perfectly. I saw someone describe it as Napoleon Dynamite meets Juno. There are parallels. The dialogue is smart, the characters are quirky. The scenery is fantastic. The Nichols School is actually in Buffalo. This film is excellent. Dear Lemon Lima gets a 10.
I attended the World Premiere of "Dear Lemon Lima," one of the highly
anticipated "buzz films," at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.
Written and directed by Suzi Yoonessi, this classic coming-of-age story is told through the diary writings of 13-year-old Vanessa (the brilliant Savanah Wiltfong). As a young woman's world is bigger-than-life, the widescreen (2.35:1) format serves to enhance the "no boundaries" view that one experiences as a child. Cleverly quirky snippets of animation add humor where appropriate and were an audience favorite.
Set in Alaska, where her high school's Snowstorm Survivor competition reenacts rich Eskimo traditions, Vanessa and her unlikely band of teammates will battle against all odds to achieve greatness -- think a female "Revenge of the Nerds." "Dear Lemon Lima," has the look of a big budget film, with surprisingly high production values and top-notch art direction capturing perfectly the lush landscape and palette of nature's colors which few ever experience in this outlying region of America.
Academy Award nominee Melissa Leo ("Frozen River") is a delight as a teammate's mother and Shayne Topp is just this side of obnoxious as Vanessa's would-be boyfriend (he just took home the jury award for Outstanding Performance at the festival). Watch for Beth Grant as the over-the-top conservative school principal -- you'll swear she's reprising her role as Kitty Farmer in the classic "Donnie Darko" (a fact which she unashamedly admitted to me after the screening). Writer/director Yoonessi explained in the Q&A that Seattle subbed for Alaska due to budget constraints and beneficial tax credits, but it was important to cast a half-Eskimo actor to portray the character, and she was lucky to find young Wiltfong to fit the bill.
True family movies have become a rarity, and "Dear Lemon Lima," is good, clean fun for all ages. It's clear that this movie was a labor of love for cast and crew.
This movie is suitable for all ages. Most of the younger kids won't
understand what happened and probably wouldn't like the movie anyway
because there is no silly slapstick comedy in it and it seems to me
that this movie would only play well to tween and teen girls since the
main character is a girl and she narrates the whole story by writing in
Vanessa Lamor (Wiltfong) is in love with her boyfriend, Philip (Topp). He comes to visit her at her work in the opening sequence and informs her that he's not there for chit-chat, he's there to end the relationship before he heads off to Paris for the summer. Straight away, we can tell that Philip's a real tool. "I thought I was going to Paris with you," Vanessa says. "Vanessa, you need to learn the difference between fantasy and reality, do you have a ticket to Paris?" She's determined to win him back, however, and enrolls in his preppy private school by using the scholarship his family got for her. Vanessa's mother, Terri (Hutchins), wants her to forget about him altogether: "If I were you, I'd write Philip's name on a piece of toilet paper, wipe and flush." During a training exercise for the big Snowstorm Survivor Competition that the school holds every year in order to teach leadership, Vanessa gets hurt and is sent to the weight room where she meets other quirky kids who are socially outcast, they call themselves the FUBARs. She doesn't want to believe in them just yet and continues to fawn over Philip, who seems to have taken a shine to a blond girl named Megan (Martin). So, Vanessa tries to get Philip's attention by dying her hair white (it's blond!). When Philip just further proves what a douche he is, Vanessa accepts who she is and bonds with the FUBARs. When she gets chosen as the Freshman Leader for Snowstorm Survivor Competition, she tries to show everyone else that you don't need to turn into an evil human being to be a good leader -- you just have to be yourself.
I liked Dear Lemon Lima. It was a funny, touching and sweet story. As I said before, most younger kids won't want to see it -- the movie is slow-paced, but it's not supposed to be a silly comedy. The movie doesn't have to rely on over-the-top action or goofy antics like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. There were plenty of funny lines (most of them came from the main character when she was writing in her diary) to keep me interested in what was going to happen. If you don't like movies that are character driven or that are talk heavy, then stay away from this one. But, if you enjoy a sweet story about a girl falling in and out of love and discovering just who exactly she is, then I suggest you give it a shot.
Another thing that sold the movie for me was the performances by all involved. This is Wiltfong's first feature and she pulls it off like she's an old seasoned pro. Other stand-outs include Zane Huett (Parker Scavo on TV's Desperate Housewives) as Hercules' Howard who is "allergic to air" and Melissa Leo as Hercules' mom. Yes, Shayne Topp does play a good snob, but it would have been nice to give us a comparison from what he gave us the entire show, I would have liked to see some earlier moments involving 'Nessa and Philip, show us how they got together, show us why 'Nessa is so in love with him, what made her cuckoo for cocoa puffs?
The ending is a bit cliché, I'm afraid, but that's sort of expected when it comes to movies of this nature. I really couldn't see them ending it any other way (and wouldn't want them to) than they did. Although, the final shot gives us one final laugh in a movie that's filled with lots of humor and lots of heart.
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Final Grade: B
I have discovered a missing genre in the American film landscape: the
smart, quirky girl teen comedy. Most notably with "Rushmore" (1998) and
filmmakers like Wes Anderson, the smart, isolated male teen have become
heroes in quirky indie films. Up until now, there hasn't really been a
female equivalent. But here comes "Dear Lemon Lima" where our heroine
is awkward and boy-obsessed, but she's also ambitious, kind-hearted and
smart, and those are the qualities that drive this film.
Set in Alaska, Vanessa (or Nessa, as those close to her, and we, can call her) is half Eskimo, but not by choice. It's not that she wants to disown her Native heritage but it's her father who is Eskimo and he left when she was too young to remember him. She has a massive crush on Philip and after he "breaks up" with her, she transfers to his private school. And this school, in a backwards, conservative way, demands her to wear her race on her sleeve.
The characteristics that Nessa portrays are the same qualities that this film has. Her and Philip are smart. They speak in quips usually reserved for linguist perfectionists and they are extremely entertaining. They know sign languagejust for the art of knowing it, and they know Spanishto the delight of their Spanish teacher. It's also a delight for us in a fantastic scene where in class they have a debate about the distinctions of a good leader.
All good films must build to a conflict. Here the conflict is in the school's Snowstorm Survivor Competition (held in summer even though "there's no such thing as global warming") which is another backwards, conservative attempt for the school to show pride in their Native heritage. Philip and Nessa are two team captains. He built his team with the popular, strong kids while she built hers with the small, weak but compassionate kids. You can guess how this underdog sports story plays out.
For a comedy, it's not all that funny, and for such smart and charming lead characters, the supporting ones are just annoying. But for a quirky indie teen coming-of-age story, it mixes in the perfect amount of female passion. There's no shortage of ironic naming of the characters, or back-handed insults at the religious, right-wing crowd, and all with a teenage heroine who has a school-girl crush on a boy. "Dear Lemon Lima" subtly finds itself in a genre all its own.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First time I tried to watch this movie I abandoned it due to opening scene where a couple of middle school sweethearts discuss something very passionately in sign language.I'm not big on reading subtitles.Several days down the road Cinemax run the movie again since I tuned when movie was well into its half hour I watched it.Someone said something about this movie having feeling of big budget one,well its quite true.Camera shoots are a treat to watch smooth,rich and lightening was superb. Now I guess I'm supposed to say something about story.I'm writing this review five hours after seeing the movie and its all but evaporated from my head. Sorry no big lasting impressions.A rebel teen chick being .. doing.. yeah stuff teens do.Thankfully nothing dramatic though.People who still cant let go of their school life will enjoy this movie.Seven stars because its beautifully shot.
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