Directed by Andrew Levitas
Written by Andrew Levitas
Starring Richard Jenkins, Garrett Hedlund, Anne Archer, Jessica Brown Findlay, Amy Adams
Flying ever so low on our radar this week was a simple but effective piece from writer/director Andrew Levitas, more noted for his acting and production work. Lullaby, released without too much fanfare on 13thJune, is his first directorial project, but you would never guess from looking at it.
Assembling a formidable cast is never easy at the best of times, with even the most respected director involved, so Levitas appears to have pulled off something of a coup here. This touching story, tinged with inevitability, enjoys the enviable talents of Richard Jenkins, Anne Archer, Garrett Hedlund, Amy Adams, Terrence Howard, Jennifer Hudson and Downton Abbey’s very own Jessica Brown Findlay.
Concerning itself predominantly with the previously strained relationship and the attempted reconciliation between Father (Jenkins) and Son (Hedlund), Levitas leads his viewer gently by the hand into a family drama that will be appreciated for its subtlety and elegance. The performances, unsurprisingly, are all very enjoyable and authentic, with a sometimes heartbreaking script at its core which simply goads excellence out of those with even the smallest speaking part.
Robert Lowenstein (Jenkins) has announced to his family that he no longer wishes to be reliant upon the machines that currently keep him alive. His doctor, the law and the hospital he lays in are happy to remove those life-enduring facilities, in order for him to die in peace. When estranged son Johnathan (Hedlund) is notified of his father’s decision to end his own life, he returns back to New York from Los Angeles, where he is a semi-successful musician, to both be at his father’s side as he nears the end of his life and to confront the man that he feels he has been unable to connect with for more reasons than he would previously have cared to address.
Supported by wife and mother, a subdued, outwardly stoic and loyal Anne Archer and feisty, smart daughter/sister, Jessica Brown Findlay, the story never really dawdles and fans of actual acting talent will be well served, as the last night of this man’s’ life gives many pockets of disquiet and rumination both individually for these characters, and more satisfyingly, head to head confrontation, solace and regret that may have been the films undoing in less experienced acting hands.
Ultimately Hedlund is the anchor by which all of this sinks or soars and thankfully he is quite up to the task, exuding emotional scarring and pent-up emotional angst with enough screen presence and magnetism to carry the large number of almost cameo appearances by many of the remaining cast members. The likes of Amy Adams and Jennifer Hudson, for example, are ‘blink and you’ll miss them’, although both are excellent when the opportunity presents itself.
Based almost entirely in the hospital where Lowenstein will shrug off his mortal coil, this leaves little opportunity for anything other than clinical beauty from a cinematic perspective, but the halls, stairwells and corridors are used to good effect, not least with the repeated interventions in Jonathan’s night by another terminal patient, a young seventeen year-old-girl, Meredith, with a sharp tongue and nothing to lose.In summary, a surprisingly effective film with some outstanding central performances that will have you grabbing for the Kleenex on at least one occasion (I know, I know, soppy bastard). The whole cast and crew should be commended for their efforts and Levitas himself has delivered quite the calling card for any future projects. Not quite up there with this years’ best films as it lacks just a little depth and the one-to-one scenes sometimes feel a little over-directed, but overall, a great film with a good message that I would encourage you to experience for yourself.