L.I.E. [5/10]

So-so coming-of-age tale, yet another searching examination of the ordinary lives of kids in ordinary suburbs – here, the faceless streets bordering the Long Island Expressway which gives the film its acronymic title. They’re home to Howie (Paul Franklin Dano), a confused 16-year-old who’s becoming aware that his feelings towards his tearaway best friend Billy (Gary Terrio) are becoming much more than platonic. With his mother dead – killed in a car-crash on the L I E – and businessman father (Bruce Altman) permanently tied up at work, Howie ends up turning to genial neighbour Big John (Brian Cox) as he blunders towards maturity. But Big John’s interest in Howie may not entirely be platonic either – and the film’s twist is that this character, who’s strictly speaking a paedophile, is presented as an understandable, even perhaps sympathetic individual. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” Big John is told at one point. “I am, I always am,” he wistfully replies.

It’s well played – Terrio would make a plausible younger brother for Seann William Scott – and the characterisations are all believable enough, but they’re up against an undeveloped script which features some jarring eruptions of melodrama: the arrest and imprisonment of Howie’s father, the climactic violent death of a main character that plays as a mechanical plot contrivance.

On the plus side, the Long Island environment comes across strongly – there’s a nice touch when a dehected Howie sits on a kerbside, only to be driven off by an automatic lawn sprinkler. The Expressway itself provides a constant, dramatic, taunting backdrop, but when when Howie stands on a bridge, staring down at the hurtling traffic, it’s hard not to think of virtually identical moments at the start of Harmony Korine’s Gummo – a film whose originality, nerve and jagged edges put this well-intentioned but slightly tepid effort firmly in the shade.


25th August, 2001
(seen Aug-22-01 on video – Edinburgh Film Festival)

USA 2000
dir : Michael Cuesta
scr : Cuesta, Gerald Cuesta, Stephen M Ryder
prods include : Michael Cuesta
cin : Romeo Tirone
edi : Eric Carlson, Kane Platt
mus : Pierre Foldes
acr : Paul Franklin Dano, Brian Cox, Gary Terrio, Bruce Altman
mins : 94