Rob Margolies’s Lifelines pitches its tone of suburban purgatory early, with nerve-wrecked matriarch Nancy (Jane Adams) staring at the camera while sing-songy yearning for a rope to hang herself with. But hers is just one voice in the chorus of dysfunctional belligerence that is the Bernstein residence: There’s also the stuttering of older son Michael (Robbie Sublett), the whining of teen daughter Meghan (Dreama Walker), and the hyper sarcasm of youngest son Spencer (Jacob Kogan). By comparison, dad Ira (Josh Pais) is blessedly quiet, but why is he slumped naked on the toilet? Could it be because it’s time to go to their therapy session and announce to the kids that he’s decided to come out of the closet and live with his boyfriend? Static and self-consciously shrill, Margolies’s feature debut sets its characters up as shallow avatars of familial anxiety and puts them in a game of psychological musical chairs in which they take turns revealing their secrets for Dr. Livingston (Joe Morton). The parade of stale shocks—rape! child abuse! manslaughter!—isn’t nearly as offensive as the egregiously contrived plot twist that tries to connect the family’s pain to their doctor’s, but succeeds merely in steering the picture’s sub-Todd Solondz derision toward sub-Paul Haggis sanctimoniousness. Margolies wants to have it both ways by painting the Bernstein clan in mocking, garish strokes and then attempting to wring sympathy from their plight (Ira’s uneasy admission of his repressed homosexuality comes not long after Spencer comically calls him a “cocksucker”), but to borrow Richard Corliss’s comment on mawkish 1950s comedies, when a cartoon cries it only blots the paper. Despite the ensemble cast’s attempts to turn the characters’ raw nerves into something more than canned shtick, the overbearing Lifelines is a service not worth dialing.
Score:Cast: Rob Margolies Director: Rob Margolies Screenwriter: Jane Adams, Josh Pais, Robbie Sublett, Dreama Walker, Jacob Kogan, Joe Morton, Joe Morton Distributor: Kanbar Entertainment Running Time: 91 min Rating: NR Year: 2008