The unhappy truth about fashionable weird-for-weird’s-sake micro-indies is that they are typically much more alike that than the toothlessly quirky Sundance objects to which they’re presupposed to function an antidote. It’s like they’ve all been grown from the identical frothy combination of Grownup Swim anti-comedy, classic lens fetishism, and male sample baldness. Each on occasion a film like Rick Alverson’s Leisure would possibly crawl out of this mad-science vat, however most of the time, it’s one thing like Janicza Bravo’s Lemon, a comedy a few Los Angeles actor (Brett Gelman) who endures one surreal humiliation after one other whereas doing a typically piss-poor job of holding it collectively within the face of an impending break-up along with his blind girlfriend (Judy Greer). It’s been a number of years because the quintessential micro-indie weirdster Quentin Dupieux stopped churning out sporadically irritating and hilarious motion pictures like Rubber, Incorrect, and Incorrect Cops, and it appears that evidently Bravo has determined to take his spot; her fashion of grotesque, miasmatic Los Angel-ism appears to be like, properly, virtually precisely like his.
However “virtually” is the operative phrase right here, as a result of Bravo, a prolific director of brief movies who has additionally does TV (she directed Atlanta’s “Juneteeth” episode), doesn’t have a Dadaist finish aim like Dupieux. Her debut function is rather more standard than it initially lets on, a hack sitcom—full with lame jokes about expertise brokers and business auditions and an overbearing Jewish household composed principally of character actors—making an attempt its hardest and loudest to come back off as freakish and off-putting. As a result of behind the flexible anamorphic lenses, tableau grasp pictures, kooky music selections, and affectless performances is one other type of over-familiarity. It actually begins to sink in as soon as Gelman’s character, Isaac, begins sort-of-dating Cleo (Nia Lengthy), a saintly make-up artist whom he meets at an advert marketing campaign shoot, resulting in all types of flimsy culture-clash hijinks—or at the very least this film’s model of them. Gelman and Bravo, who wrote the script collectively, are married in actual life, a undeniable fact that someway makes Lemon’s mixture of broad caricature and broader relationship metaphors even clumsier.
It’s the kind of stuff a self-loathing Charlie Kaufman stand-in would possibly provide you with in a Charlie Kaufman script—like, you already know, the protagonist’s actually blind girlfriend. (To be honest, Greer’s character’s blindness units up a number of the film’s higher visible gags.) The larger drawback, although, is that every one of this last-minute-art-homework surrealism is never all that humorous. As an alternative, Lemon’s finest bits are extra observational or social-cringe-based, just like the presence of Isaac’s former therapist at his household’s Passover Seder or the connection between Isaac, who teaches a Chekhov workshop in a pathetic storefront theater, and his immodest star pupil, Alex (Michael Cera, sporting a Harpo-Marx-meets-Frederick Douglass ’do). Cera, who has appeared in a number of of Bravo’s brief movies, will get many of the finest traces (“I’ve been utilizing colours in my exploring,” “I’ve been doing quite a lot of animal work, and never only one animal”), taking part in to the extra dickish facet of his persona. Within the creepy dynamic between these two losers—which incorporates their fixed, overtly misogynistic bullying of Alex’s scene parter (Gillian Jacobs)—Lemon finds itself on the cusp of one thing legitimately fascinating and uncomfortable. However that will contain going to a spot that’s really bizarre.