×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Lullaby’

A family gathers for its patriarch's imminent cancer death in Andrew Levitas' solemn directorial debut.

With:
Garrett Hedlund, Richard Jenkins, Jessica Brown Findlay, Anne Archer, Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Barden, Terrence Howard, Amy Adams, Daniel Sunjata, Frankie Shaw, Maddie Corman Darren Le Gallo, Anne Vyalitsyna, Russell Koplin.

With a solemnity belied by his last name, sometime-actor-producer-painter-sculptor Andrew Levitas makes a doggedly personal and downbeat directorial debut with “Lullaby,” about a family that gathers for its patriarch’s imminent cancer death. The name cast, including Garrett Hedlund in a charismatic leading turn, may lure viewers, but even in limited release (with a simultaneous bow on VOD), the film faces grim B.O. prospects, given its subject matter.

In a director’s note, the polymath helmer — who has worked across visual arts, acted in various bit parts, and taken producing credits on such films as “The Art of Getting By” and “At Any Price” — says he was inspired by his father’s own prolonged deterioration from terminal illness. Indeed, it seems clear that “Lullaby,” which centers on a musician who returns home to bid his dad farewell after a period of estrangement from the family, is at least somewhat autobiographically inspired.

We first meet Jonathan (Hedlund) on a plane, as two flight attendants threaten him with arrest for smoking in a lavatory. He’s en route to New York, where his wealthy father, Robert (a bedridden Richard Jenkins), plans to take himself off life support. It turns out that Jonathan’s sister, aspiring attorney Karen (a convincingly American Jessica Brown Findlay, from “Downton Abbey”), has filed an injunction to prevent him from doing just that.

Adding to the complications, Robert has given away his fortune, leaving even the children’s mother, Rachel (Anne Archer), with very little. Why, the kids ask? “’Cause I love you both and I raised a couple of spoiled brats,” Robert replies. The emphasis on grand gestures, the nonstop recriminations and the constant discussion of privilege give the film a labored “King Lear” vibe.

Much of the early action, with Jonathan telling off his father, feels awkwardly staged, even tortured, a quality exacerbated by Levitas’ weakness with dialogue: “The heart’s a muscle. It pumps blood. That’s all it does.” “It’s hard to love someone who’s got an expiration date stamped on their forehead.” Still, the film deserves credit for confronting viewers with an uncomfortable subject.

The central question is whether Robert is selfish or brave to want to die after surviving for 12 years with a six-month prognosis. In a contrived finale, this film-long debate culminates with Karen actually delivering an oral argument for why terminating one’s life is inconsistent with America’s founding principles of freedom. (“Lullaby” is vague on where she stands in her career; the 23-year-old character’s presentation doesn’t speak highly of her much-touted education at Yale.)

Although the quartet (accompanied by a police officer) holds a convincingly halting Passover seder in the hospital’s chapel, it’s easy to picture the principal action staged as a more taut and powerful play, with the dying man’s room as the lone set. A subplot involving Jonathan’s ex (Amy Adams) seems to exist less to emphasize his personal growth than to give the movie an excuse to leave the medical center’s grounds, something it rarely, needlessly does. The same goes for the oddly placed flashbacks.

Another thread, in which the jaded Jonathan agrees to take a 17-year-old patient (Jessica Barden) on a faux prom date, pushes “Lullaby” into the realm of a more sentimental weepie, mawkishly if gently taking some of the edge off the film’s serious-minded message about end-of-life care. (Terrence Howard plays Robert’s conscientious physician, mindful of his legal obligations, and Jennifer Hudson a nurse.)

Pic closes on an indulgent yet cathartic note with Hedlund, who also sang in “County Strong” and whose quaver alternately suggests Cat Stevens and Adam Duritz, crooning a ballad in honor of his father called “Fall Apart.” The hospital surroundings — particularly Robert’s artfully darkened room — seem lit for atmosphere rather than realism, though Florian Ballhaus’ Alexa lensing appeared to have lost much of its luster in the Blu-ray projected for press.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Lullaby'

Reviewed at Magno screening room, New York, June 3, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 117 MIN.

Production: An ARC Entertainment release of an Avenue Pictures and Ananta Prods. production in association with MetalWork Pictures and Media House Capital. Produced by Andrea Stone-Brokaw, Cary Brokaw. Executive producers, David Ostrander, Chloe Green, Aaron L. Gilbert, Michael Bederman. Co-producers, Anya Moers Recordati, Stephanie Coleman, Greta Henley, Heather Faris, Clark Kokich, Sarah Fay, Steven M. Weinberg.

Crew: Directed, written by Andrew Levitas. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Florian Ballhaus; editor, Julie Monroe; music, Patrick Leonard; executive music producer, Budd Carr; production designer, Stuart Wurtzel; art director, Freda Slavin; set decorator, Alyssa Winter; costume designers, Michelle Matland, Ann Roth; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), David Schwartz; supervising sound editor, Robert Hein; re-recording mixers, Reilly Steele, Robert Hein; visual effects supervisor, Vico Sharabani; visual effects, the Artery VFX; stunt coordinator, Blaise Corrigan; associate producer, Alie Stone; assistant director, Mike Meador; casting, Andrea Stone-Brokaw, Eve Battaglia.

With: Garrett Hedlund, Richard Jenkins, Jessica Brown Findlay, Anne Archer, Jennifer Hudson, Jessica Barden, Terrence Howard, Amy Adams, Daniel Sunjata, Frankie Shaw, Maddie Corman Darren Le Gallo, Anne Vyalitsyna, Russell Koplin.

More Film

  • Slam

    Film Review: ‘Slam’

    The disappearance of a fearless female Palestinian-Australian slam poet triggers suspense and powerful social and political commentary in “Slam,” an outstanding slow-burn thriller by expat Indian filmmaker Partho Sen-Gupta (“Sunrise”). Starring Palestinian actor Adam Bakri (“Omar,” “Official Secrets”) as the missing woman’s conflicted brother, and leading Aussie performer Rachael Blake as a troubled cop, Opening [...]

  • Igo Kantor

    Igo Kantor, Producer and Post-Production Executive, Dies at 89

    Igo Kantor, whose Hollywood career took him from Howard Hughes’ projection room to supervising post-production on “Easy Rider” and producing B-movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” and “Mutant,” died Oct. 15. He was 89. Kantor, who was born in Vienna and raised in Lisbon, met “Dillinger” director Max Nosseck on the ship to New York. [...]

  • The Lion King

    Average Movie Ticket Price Falls 4% in Third Quarter of 2019

    Average ticket prices for the third quarter have dropped 4% to $8.93, down from Q2’s $9.26, the National Association of Theatre Owners announced today. However, compared with the third quarter of 2018, ticket price has risen 1.1% from $8.83. The summer box office is down 2.13% from 2018, though the third quarter box office is [...]

  • Tilda Swinton to Preside Over The

    Tilda Swinton to Preside Over Marrakech Film Festival

    Tilda Swinton, the iconoclastic British actress and producer, is set to preside over the 18th edition of the Marrakech International Film Festival, succeeding to American director James Gray. Swinton, who won an Oscar and a BAFTA award for best supporting actress for “Michael Clayton,” has been leading an eclectic acting career. She has collaborated with [...]

  • The King Netflix

    Middleburg Film Festival Brings Hollywood to Virginia

    For the last seven years, audiences have flocked to the Middleburg Film Festival. Running October 17th – 21st, and situated in the wine-country hills of historic Middleburg, Virg., the festival usually highlights some of the year’s buzziest titles, and 2019 is no exception. “We’re a smaller festival with fewer overall screenings than other events, so we [...]

  • Kelly McCormick and David Leitch'Fast &

    'Wheelman' Director to Helm 'Versus' From David Leitch, Kelly McCormick (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Wheelman” director Jeremy Rush is in negotiations to helm the action movie “Versus,” with Kelly McCormick and David Leitch producing. Rush will direct the Universal movie from a script penned by “Three Musketeers” scribe Alex Litvak and “American Assassin” writer Mike Finch. Plot details are being kept under wraps, though it will follow the genre [...]

  • Taika Waititi Jojo Rabbit Premiere

    Why Director Taika Waititi Decided to Play Adolf Hitler in 'Jojo Rabbit'

    “Fox Searchlight blackmailed me into doing it,” Taika Waititi told Variety of playing Adolf Hilter in “Jojo Rabbit” at the film’s premiere at American Legion Post 43 on Tuesday night in Hollywood. Staying mum when asked which other actors had been on his wish list to play the role, Waititi explained why he eventually decided [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content