Director: Andrew Levitas
Cast: Garrett Hedlund, Richard Jenkins, Amy Adams, Jessica Brown Findlay, Anne Archer, Terrence Howard, Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Barden
Release Date: June 13th, 2014
When Robert Lowenstein (Richard Jenkins) received a cancer diagnosis, here the doctor gave him six months. Twelve years later, he’s still suffering from the disease.
Lowenstein is not the main character in the new cinematic drama Lullaby but the fear surrounding his upcoming death serves as the backdrop of this story. The main character, portrayed compassionately by the underrated Garrett Hedlund, is Jonathan Lowenstein. Jonathan is a young man meandering through his mid-20s without thinking too much about the future or dwelling too much in the past.
When he’s caught smoking in an airplane bathroom early on, he arguably already knows that he’s going to get away with the illegal act. He’s used to using his superficial charms to get away with his poor decisions.
Robert, though, is dying and there’s no way of getting around that. After Robert told his children about the diagnosis years earlier, the teenage Jonathan had bluntly asked “Do I still have to play violin?’ In this movie, the adult Jonathan seems to be asking “Can’t life still remain the same with you hanging on for a little while longer?”
The answer, of course, is no.
Jonathan is forced to confront painful reality with the support of his forgiving mother Rachel (Anne Archer) and his sister, the tough lawyer Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay). As can be expected, each of these characters is forced to confront their pain in the way they know how. Anne attempts to hold the family together as one while mourning the eventual loss of her husband (“What happens when there’s no us,” she asks). Karen, weary of his father’s decision to end his own life, seeks solace in the law as she legally attempts to prevent her father from ending his life with the physician’s support.
Jonathan seeks solace in his own pain, never really reaching out to anyone except for the people who, at first reach out to him. He does go visit his ex-girlfriend Emily’s (Amy Adams) house in an act of desperation, hoping to repair their once-blossoming relationship.
The problem with some of these plot developments is that they seem too obvious and quaint for a story that is trying to delve deeper in to human tragedy. Karen’s last-minute argument for his father to preserve his own life falls flat because it rings false. Life isn’t that simple or predictable. Aside from that, Jonathan’s relationship with a young cancer patient named Meredith (Jessica Barden) also feels like a burden to the overall story because it feels like an unnecessary add-on taken from the Hollywood playbook to make Jonathan more likeable.
In this character drama, it’s side characters like her that don’t belong in a family’s personal story about the bonds that members of this family feel for one another. Even Emily— despite being played by the wonderful Adams— is undermined by a too-perfect conclusion that simplifies the main character’s personal journey.
Underneath the layers of melancholy and pain, there are fresh characters here that I only wished could’ve shined through more prominently. One of the film’s pure moments of real heart shows Robert asking Jonathan to serve as the witness for his decision to end his life prematurely. Jonathan asks Robert to detail a baseball game the two once shared to prove his mental stability.
In that moment, Robert proves that he’s capable of making his own decisions but it also proves that writer/director Andrew Levitas was capable of much, much more.
Review by: John Hanlon