Dear Lemon Lima (Suzi Yoonessi, 2009): USA

Reviewed by Byron Potau.  Viewed at The Landmark Theatre as Part of the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Writer/director Suzi Yoonessi’s Dear Lemon Lima never gets beyond feeling occasionally cute, even when there is tragedy in the film.  Sometimes pretty to look at, but predictable and clichéd, the film is little more than an inferior Revenge of the Nerds for thirteen year-old girls set in an Alaskan prep school.

Vanessa (Savanah Wiltfong) is completely crushed when her wealthy, smart, and snobbish boyfriend, Phillip (Shayne Topp), breaks up with her.  Not to be deterred, she becomes obsessed with winning him back, even if it means becoming one of the team captains of the Snowstorm Survivor competition at their prep school to impress him.  By the time she chooses the members of her team, she has decided that instead of picking the strongest students for her team, she will pick the collection of school misfits.  It is a group she has identified herself with and befriended, and who regularly get sent to the weight room–a punishment for their weakness.

The film has a few cute moments, such as when Vanessa and Phillip converse in sign language, calling each other by the pet names Onion and Strawberry, and the adorable opening credits full of wonderful pastel colors (throughout the film) and bunny rabbits who poop hearts, but that is as involved as we can get as the film keeps us at bay.  There is some tragedy in the film, but everyone seems to handle it so well that so do we, giving it very little emotional weight.

     The Snowstorm Survivor competition is as predictable as can be, with the unusual challenges native to this Alaskan competition being the only things with any originality to them.  Since the competition is the centerpiece of the narrative, it really drags the entire film down with it.  Adding to the film’s demise are the many characters inflated and horribly overplayed, especially the gym coach, Coach Roach (Elaine Hendrix).  Her character is so exaggerated that you will cringe every time she comes onscreen.  Shayne Topp as Phillip is acceptable; the problem here is not him, but rather with writer/director Yoonessi’s exaggeration of this character as well, a failing she seems to show in several of her characters.

Yoonessi’s exaggerations also extend to her settings with mixed results.  Her pastel-colored ice cream shop where Vanessa and Phillip both work achieves a surreal quality that defines Vanessa’s world and which strengthens the film.  But other locations like the dark, damp, dungeon-like basement weight room are just over the top and do not succeed, detracting from the film.

The film’s bright spot is Savanah Wiltfong who, in the lead role as Vanessa, is able to win us over more often than not with her adorable likability.  She acts with a naturalness and seems at ease in the role.  With more detailed focus on this character, and without the clichéd Snowstorm Survivor competition and the cartoonish characters around her, this film might have had a stronger impact.

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