What is the “lemon” of director/co-writer Janicza Bravo’s deliriously deadpan feature debut “Lemon”? Is it the turquoise jalopy of protagonist Isaac (co-writer Brett Gelman) that breaks down on him in a moment of extreme distress, or is it, frankly, the man himself? Partners in life and comedy, Bravo and Gelman demonstrate their uniquely oddball sense of humor in this collaboration, directed by Bravo with a supremely assured sense of rhythm and style.
Isaac is a Job-like figure existing in a heightened simulacrum of Hollywood’s underbelly, enduring a series of increasingly unfortunate and humiliating events. His relationship with an emotionally-remote blind woman, Ramona (Judy Greer), is crumbling from under him, and his career is on the ropes. An actor, he’s most often cast in ads for diseases and diapers, and the success of his acting student Alex (Michael Cera), whom he coaches in a scene study class, doesn’t help.
In crisis, Isaac recklessly pursues a makeup artist, Cleo (a radiant Nia Long), and embarrasses himself at a barbecue with her large Caribbean family.
Bravo masterfully utilizes camera movement, blocking and smash cuts to create a tempo that both lulls and jolts. It’s all beautifully shot by Jason McCormick, velvety and saturated with golden light. At the center of it all is her muse, Gelman, whose inscrutable glowering and forthright line delivery knows no equal.
In “Lemon,” Bravo and Gelman find a transcendent absurdity in the mundane that’s awkwardly enchanting. It’s more tart than sweet, but deliciously weird nonetheless.
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes
Playing: Landmark Nuart, West L.A.