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L.I.E. (NC-17)
Lot 47 Films
Official Site
Director: Michael Cuesta
Producers: Rene Bastian and Michael Cuesta
Written by: Steven M. Ryder, Gerald Cuesta, and Michael Cuesta
Cast: Brain Cox, Paul Franklin Dano, Billy Kay, Bruce Altman, James Costa, Tony Michael Donnelly, Walter Masterson

Rating: out of 5

With L.I.E., first-time writer/director Michael Cuesta recounts a wonderful coming-of-age story concerning a boy—Howie Blitzer (Dano)—who, having nearly lost everything, finds himself in a state of constant uncertainty with only one person to turn to—Big John (Cox)—an ex-marine, lover of classical music and poetry, and pedophile. L.I.E., however, is not about the sexual desires of Big John or any other person whom Howie comes into contact with, but rather the nebulous experience of life presented via the contradictions that lie not just within people but also in everything around us. In fact, it is Cuesta’s unwillingness to pass judgment or draw strict boundaries between good and evil or right and wrong that creates the film’s both tender and gut-wrenching moments. After such an outpouring of teen movies in the past few years that have barely hinted at or failed to even acknowledge adolescent sexuality, it is refreshing to see a film that provides an interesting antithesis to depthless delineations of teen life.

L.I.E., or the Long Island Expressway, is not only a freeway close to Howie’s house in the suburbs, but also the place where his mother was killed in a car accident. The film opens with Howie climbing onto a rail of a bridge over the L.I.E and tempting fate as he holds one leg out in front of the other, while he describes via voice-over the relevance of the freeway to his life. Howie’s days consist of ditching school, hanging out behind a corner store, and/or breaking into neighboring houses with friends in search of money and anything else they can eat or sell. Once back at home, Howie goes straight to his room, avoiding his too-busy-with-work dad and his new girlfriend, who moved into the house too soon after his mother’s death for Howie’s liking. While Howie appears apathetic to the adults in his life, his attention is focused on nighttime, the time he sneaks out and spends with his new friend, Gary. As Gary and Howie’s friendship, which is nothing more but hints at underlying affection, burgeons, Howie becomes increasingly dependent on Gary as a mentor to turn to for answers about his sexuality. Especially after Howie’s family life falls further into shambles when his dad begins to take out his work mistakes on Howie, physically. But even Gary deserts him, leaving him more confused and frustrated than before. It is at this point that Big John comes into his life, offering him all the experience of someone who has been there—like a father should—and allowing Howard’s intelligent and poetic side to shine. And while Big John is a caring and an adorable individual who is loved all around town, he expects something in return. This fragile moment is the expressive centerpiece of L.I.E., not because it is the moment of resolution or clarity but because it is just as poignantly obfuscated as the rest of the film.

But my words cannot do justice to the detailed complexity with which all these circumstances are presented. As the camera lingers in a jilting hand-held shot or an entire day flashes past in time-lapse, the characters whirl around each other and their environment with the depth and texture of a perplexing problem, one in which every solution ends up being wrong in it own way. It is these moments that offer windows into the dynamics of these characters and the feelings of uncertainty that plague Howie. And as I sat and waited for the devices of conflict and resolution to work themselves out—which they really never do—I was slowly pulled further and further into the world of 15-year-old Howard Blitzer. And as I become further lost in this world, I began to feel connected again the second I let go, connected not because I was once a 15-year-old boy coming to terms with all these issues but because I realized that I am now still (and will probably forever be) coming to terms with all these issues.

Whereas the teen boom of the recent past presupposed a dominant, monolithic view of its teens, L.I.E. is not only willing to interrogate peripheral situations in life and alternative sexualities but does so with intelligence and compassion. It is a rare film that not only shows the lack of Hollywood’s thoughtless mimic machine but also the faults of independent “shock” films such as KIDS or BULLY.

—Eric Vanstrom

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