Here are two definitions as it relates to the film Lemon, a new film co-written and starring Brett Gelman and co-written and directed by Janicza Bravo. The second one is mine.

  1. a person or thing that proves to be defective, imperfect, or unsatisfactory
  2. a film that tries too hard

Lemon is a highly-stylized, dark comedy about Isaac (Brett Gelman), who is a “lemon.” In short, without going through the countless examples thrown at you from the first frame on, Isaac sucks as a person.

My issue is that Isaac sucks in all the ways we’ve seen before in familiar but inauthentic tropes. As a teacher, he’s a rude misogynist who picks on Tracy, played by Gillian Jacobs, to grow closer to Alex, (Michael Cera, doing his best Gene Wilder impression — and failing). As a boyfriend, he’s failing Ramona (Judy Greer), his blind (for whatever reason) girlfriend of 10 years, who leaves him. All of this is to say that the world that is set up in the first 10 minutes of the film feels familiar, but really contrived, like someone trying hard to tell a joke but missing the tone and cadence to deliver the punchline.

As for the rest of the cast, which is a collection of indie darlings including Nia Long, Shiri Appleby, Fred Melamed, Rhea Perlman, David Paymer, Martin Starr, Megan Mullally, Jeff Garlin and Marla Gibbs doesn’t strengthen the material. Instead, the scenes play out in clunky tableaus that allow for very disjointed conversations between great actors delivering bad lines in a narrative that is in love with its own existence, by which I mean, this film seems pointless. The best example of this is Greer’s character, Ramona. Ramona is blind. That’s it. She’s blind, and it seems to serve no other purpose other than to make her blind. Blind is quirky. Or maybe I just don’t get it.

This is not to say that people will not enjoy the cinematography or the art design. Lemon is highly-stylized and beautifully shot, although the framing of the scenes tries as hard as the dialog to be quirky. The music in the film is the same way. It’s overbearing, contrived, but because it’s a trope of quirky, off-beat comedies about socially inept men trying to find love, you of course get scenes that are set entirely to music. You also get scenes where Isaac hears the voice of a woman who cannot speak. You get scenes where characters deliver wooden dialog because they are wooden characters. You get numerous shots of Isaac walking quickly and awkwardly through locations. And it all seems, ultimately, pointless. Or maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m missing the joke. Maybe I missed every single joke.

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