L.I.E. (2001)

May 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Billy Kay and Paul Dano in 'L.I.E.'

Written by Stephen M. Ryder, Michael Cuesta and Gerald Cuesta

Directed by Michael Cuesta

Starring Paul Dano, Billy Kay, Brian Cox and Bruce Altman

It’s a funny feeling to watch a film and simultaneously be horrified and fascinated at the same time. That pairing is used a lot, I personally think it gets tossed around by critics with a smaller audience in order to get their review quoted in national television ads and on the posters inside newspapers’ movie section. For the first time ever, that combination of words perfectly describes an experience of viewing a movie, in the form of L.I.E.

A somewhat cynical coming-of-age story, L.I.E. is primarily about a boy (an adolescent Paul Dano, in a transformative performance in which not a hint of his future acting persona can be seen) who is in the midst of deciphering his own sexual identity amongst a litany of other problems, some related and some not as he explores a friendship with a slightly older boy, played by sometime actor Billy Kay in a performance that is charming but snaky. When Kay smiles and does something nice, it somehow feels unwholesome, much like the film, which covers teenage sex, pedophelia, broken homes, absentee parenting, etc.

Brian Cox shows up as a war veteran who takes a shining to the two boys. He makes no bones about his intentions, but discusses his desires with the two teenagers as though he’s discussing a summer job position their applying for. It’s fascinating to watch what is normally treated as dark and disturbing being depicted as casual and normal. No ominous music or lighting or dialogue, just straight forward facts. Chilling, but fascinating.

There is surprisingly little substance abuse for a coming-of-age genre story, save for a few shots of kids drinking 40s and smoking cigs. As disturbing as the story and some of the characters are, the film captures your attention and keeps it. The brilliance being in what they don’t show, but merely hint at or discuss. Perhaps it’s more realistic that way- real life doesn’t slam you in the face or bang you over the head with situations and actions that are easily avoided with a little common sense and following of your gut instinct. That’s why common sense and gut instinct exist. L.I.E. taps into that fine line in young adult hood between falling victim to the naivete of child hood and tapping in to our burgeoning sense of self reliance and trust in our own judgement.

The only thing that I didn’t like about the story was how Paul Dano’s character was still an archetype. The smartest and smallest boy in his group, a writer, also probably the weakest/most feeble, etc. with the most stable home life. It seems a cliche to me to focus on the character with the best chance at a bright future. Why not focus on a character with few to no redeeming qualities and watch that person transform, as opposed to watching a better off person fall apart?

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