Lie With Me, an indie arthouse flick aiming for a limited theatrical release in the second half of 2015, is an occasionally powerful and occasionally maddening film that explores family dysfunction and the lingering dynamics that never seem to escape us as it tells the story of the O'Shannon family - patriarch Stan (Harwood Gordon) and sisters Carla (Lisa Younger) and Susan (Rachel Marie Lewis). Carla and Susan return to the family home, along with Susan's boyfriend (Lawrence McEvoy), and into the still tightly wound web of truths, lies, half-truths, and unforgettable traumas from their past.
Apparently adapted for the screen from a stage play by Keith Bridges, Lie With Me is a challenging film with challenging themes. It's not for the faint of heart or mind.
Directed by Jamison Brandi, Lie With Me is a relentlessly authentic film that may very well prove emotionally exhausting to the less committed indie moviegoer, or those who prefer indie/underground fests or experimental cinema, but it's a film that despite The Independent Critic's modest rating remains a worthy view for those who can appreciate the way co-writers Jamison and Jason Brandi refuse to cater to Hollywood sensibilities or to create a paint-by-number story with a paint-by-number resolution.
The film not only deals honestly with unresolved family issues, including incest, but painfully and at times even romantically details how these issues have impacted relationships, lives and everything else that's going to unfold here.
As a sexual abuse survivor myself, I will admit that there were moments in Lie With Me that were squirm-inducing because the Brandi's simply refuse to pull back even at the most uncomfortable.
The film benefits greatly from the similarly squirm-inducing performance of Harwood Gordon as the family's patriarch and seeming source of negative memories and ongoing agitation. The dynamics between Susan and Stan are intimately uncomfortable. Stan often uses a wheelchair, an uncomfortable and almost jarring fact when one realizes that Susan is a prostitute who specializes in johns with disabilities. Is this a negative thing? Perhaps not. There's an undeniable romanticizing of it in the film, though certainly this will offend some with more fragile sensibilities. There's much made of the fact that a local priest considers Susan's services to be a sort of gift, a lens through which it seems much of the film itself has been painted even with the more difficult subject matter.
There is much about Lie With Me that is unsettled and existing in a sort of post-traumatic haze of lie-filled truths and truth-filled lies. There are coping skills that make uncomfortable sense, while there are emotions that seem constantly on the verge of bubbling over.
Some eventually do. Some don't.
Lie With Me is at its best in the film's quieter moments. It's hard, incredibly hard, to make a film about family dysfunction and abuse without having the emotions that unfold occasionally seem histrionic and forced. It happens here. There were times I was sitting there watching the screen thinking to myself "I just don't believe it," yet there were other times, the smaller and quieter times, when I found myself enthralled by the performances that unfolded and trying to put the pieces together of a puzzle that, in all likelihood, just doesn't fit.
Rachel Marie Lewis shines in those quieter moments whether those moments be ones of seething rage or aching vulnerability. I even liked watching her scenes with her disabled johns, though if I'm being honest that may be as much because I'm a disabled film critic who hasn't gotten laid in a while.
The lensing of D.P. Jon Edwards is pristine and almost awkward in its beauty. While I didn't quite resonate with certain choices made, such as split-screen shots and some of the awkward angles that I have no doubt were an intentional artistic choice, it's hard not to appreciate the boldness with which the entire film is shot.
The film's original music, courtesy of Indie Folker, gives the film a sort of melancholy innocence reflective of the family's Irish heritage. There's a beauty to it, yet there always seems to feel like there's something on the other side of that beauty.
Lie With Me is already available through Vimeo on Demand, though the Brandi Brothers are looking at theatrical distribution in the coming months. If you get a chance, I have a feeling that the big screen is the way to see this story that is both intimate yet universal.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic