TMN Movie Review: "Lullaby"

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A man who's estranged from his family receives word that his father has chosen to take himself off life support within 48 hours.
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Rating: R
Length: 117 minutes
Release Date: June 13, 2014
Directed by: Andrew Levitas
Genre: Drama

Andrew Levitas' big directorial debut details the painful and dramatic event of a terminally ill man choosing to end his own life. After 12 long years on life support, the wealthy Robert Lowenstein calls his estranged family together to meet with him one last time before he removes his life support. Conflict ensues as bonds are tested and his children and wife are left with almost nothing. "Lullaby" is a thoughtful film that explores a touchy subject with the right levels of sensitivity, gravity and purpose, making it a great choice for the intellectual viewer.

In the beginning of the film, audiences are introduced to Jonathon (Garrett Hedlund), a rugged but charismatic man on a flight who is approached by angry flight attendants after smoking in the lavatory. Although the man is clearly a mess, he talks one of the attendants out of reporting his misdemeanor. On his way from Los Angeles to New York to visit his estranged father, Jonathon is surprised when his terminally ill father announces that he is ready to take himself off life support, tired of the constant struggle of his condition.

Robert Lowenstein (Richard Jenkins) was once a successful businessman, but he now depends on a ventilator and several other machines to keep him alive in his bedridden condition. His wife Rachel (Anne Archer) is understandably upset with her husband's choice, weeping by his bedside and fighting his decision. However, it is the heir-aspiring attorney daughter Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay) who takes it upon herself to find a legal means of halting his decision. Jonathon, too, is upset about his father's decision, responding in anger. His family becomes even further distraught upon discovering that Robert intended to leave them very little, having given away almost his entire fortune. According to him, this was for their own good as he believes he had raised his children to be spoiled.

Jonathon spends a great deal of time in the hospital, befriending a young patient named Meredith (Jessica Barden) and talking up a hard-working, sassy nurse (Jennifer Hudson). He also finds time to reconnect with Emily (Amy Adams), his love interest from long ago. Through a series of flashbacks and conversations, audiences see Jonathon and Karen's entitled but complicated lives growing up. The big debate within the film finally culminates in a former argument by Karen to her father. Will it be enough to change his mind?

"Lullaby" is an engaging drama that uses symbolism, dialog and beautiful cinematography to its benefit. The film explores the themes of death and rebirth, both in the literal sense and the figurative sense. Jonathon, who at one point fell into a downward spiral leaving him disheveled, cynical and angry, is reborn as the film progresses, taking time to learn about the deeper aspects of humanity. Amongst all this is the constant, nagging question of whether Robert is being selfish in taking his own life after surviving more than a decade with an original prognosis of just six months.

One of the film's weaker points is its appeal to melodramatic scenes intended as tearjerkers. Although some of these tense scenes are genuinely thoughtful, others appear somewhat forced. The film's obvious highlight is its fabulous cast of complex characters, each one dealing with unique struggles and reaching a point of development. Jonathon is clearly the most complex character of the bunch, dealing with issues of suppressed anger and resentment despite his entitled upbringing. His transformation throughout the film is stunning, with character like the young patient, the nurse and Emily all teaching him something about who he once was and who he could be.

The screenplay may not be the most spectacular thing to hit Hollywood, but it still delivers an interesting and thought-provoking story. What really brings this movie together, however, is its pleasant mix of acting talent. Garrett Hedlund is mesmerizing as the ruggedly handsome bad boy and musician Jonathon, tingeing his performance with the perfect amounts of anger and understanding. Richard Jenkins is at his best as Robert, convincingly portraying the life-weary businessman trying to look out for his family. Jessica Brown Findlay and Anne Archer are equally impressive. The brilliant Amy Adams could have certainly used some more screen time.

Wrapping this heavy family drama together is a beautiful and fitting score by Patrick Leonard, helping to strike an emotional chord in the audience. Although director Andrew Levitas does not deliver a groundbreaking drama for his debut, he delivers and honorable entry into the world of cinema that is certainly worth watching.