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Rainbows, Unicorns and Snowstorm Survival Techniques--A Familiar, But Winning, Coming-Of-Age Story
on July 28, 2011
The film "Dear Lemon Lima" is an unexpected delight that repurposes almost every teen movie cliche imaginable into a sparkling and charming comedy that seems surprisingly fresh. I had no preconceived notions about the film and maybe that's why it caught me unaware--but this coming-of-age story is both offbeat and relatable. Many films that opt to go down the quirky route do so at the risk of losing genuine emotional resonance, but writer/director Suzi Yoonessi subtly balances the whimsy with a very solid heart. This one has it all. It is the journey of growing up, an embrace of first love, a tale of misfits coming together, and a triumph against adversity. Absolutely nothing new is offered in the way of plotting, but by delivering the narrative in a unique environment with an understated (and deadpan) tone--"Dear Lemon Lima" really does set itself apart from hundreds of other films covering similar territory. And it does so in a sweet and family friendly way.
The film focuses on an unlikely heroine played by Savanah Wiltfong. At the beginning, she is infatuated by an older boy (played with arrogant pomposity by a terrific Shayne Topp). However, Wiltfong is a bit of an awkward outsider and the couple are on distinctly different trajectories within the school's hierarchy. Falling in with a likable band of misfits, Wiltfong starts to understand what is really important in this life. When she takes an unlikely position of leadership in a major school competition, it's time for the misfits to band together as a team--one with integrity and heart! All sounds pretty standard, huh? Part of the film's uniqueness is its setting. Taking place in Alaska, the culture of the state and its native inhabitants plays a significant role in the narrative. The casual prejudice inherent in this mostly white school as well as the co-opting of native traditions for popular entertainment add an unusual dimension to the story. In fact, the big school competition is the Snowstorm Survival challenge!
I've encountered a number of comparisons being made between this film and "Juno." The matter-of-fact and offbeat line delivery certainly might bring this correlation to mind, but (in my opinion) this is an altogether different beast. First, this skews younger and evokes a more innocent time. And the tone varies significantly. Where Juno is hip, self-referential, and completely self-aware (that's not a criticism, I happen to love this about Juno)--"Dear Lemon Lima" uses its quirky and fantastical elements in the context of our heroine discovering her own inner strength. She is figuring out how to be empowered, how to be confident, how to be an adult and the film's quirkiness is a tool employed in establishing this journey to maturity and enlightenment. Somehow it fits--and, trust me, I'm no big fan of eccentricity that serves no purpose. Appropriate for family enjoyment, but entertaining for all--I found this unassuming picture to be full of charm. While I might have wished for the story to be more ambitious in its plotting, it is still an accomplished and effective addition to the coming-of-age movie genre. Sweet, simple and thoroughly winning. KGHarris, 7/11.