As he watches the fruits of his second produced screenplay develop, Derick Martini seems like a modestly overwhelmed director enamoured with praise for his new film Lymelife. Perusing Twitter (as uncertainly as he uses Skype to communicate with me) he says he was surprised by some of the responses to the release, “I follow the twitter, I don’t have a page, I just look up Lymelife and I’ll see every day a new couple of people see it. It’s just amazing. There are comments on there, ‘Just watched Lymelife – it changed my fucking life,’ and I’m just looking at it and I’m like ‘Wow!’”
Although the creator may be surprised with positive comments, I for one am not. Depicting mundane suburban family life in 1970s Long Island, Lymelife follows the trials of two families through the eyes of Scott, a confused yet perceptive teen in love with the girl next door. As infidelity, Lyme’s disease, paranoia and pride all clash subtly; a beautiful and raw story unfolds.
Carrying the plot is the script, which is astonishingly realistic and involving. Having not seen his other material, I wondered whether honest dialogue came naturally to this young director. “I’ve written in a lot of genres,” Derick responds diplomatically, “and this is certainly one that’s fun. It’s fun and I love it but it’s frightening because you never know if the movies gonna work, because you don’t have a lot to hang onto. It’s a risky thing.”
If relying on script is a risk, it’s a danger that doesn’t materialise for Derick Martini. Indeed, as his writing works so well, it isn’t a shock to learn how autobiographical the film is. Derrick was influenced by the infidelity in his own family and talks to me fondly of more specific events in the film lifted from his life. A scene where Scott learns to inhale from a joint is one that springs to mind for the director.
Although Derick’s fierce talent for capturing the finer nuances and micro-encounters of life is clear – he is quick to remind me throughout our conversation of the importance of his undeniably strong cast. He concedes that although a film that relies heavily on performances, as well as the script, is a hazard, or, “rolling the dice” as he puts it, he’s gambling on the right people.
Rory Culkin, who plays the unconventional protagonist Scott, is worthy of particular note. His performance is almost flawless and the relationship with his brother utterly engrossing. Watching the film, I found myself lost in simple exchanges, completely involved in the minutiae of banal family life. Saying this to Derick, whilst mentioning the aptness of his cast – Alec Baldwin, Emma Roberts and Keiran Culkin are all fantastic – I clearly open a floodgate. “Rory essentially carried the movie”, Derrick says earnestly, after pausing for thought, “his range,” he continues like an excited fan, “it’s going from being quiet and shy to essentially being enraged and then breaking down in tears. He impressed me immensely.” Continuing with the rest of his performers, Derick describes them lovingly and defensively, like a mother shielding her children with praise. I find it difficult to get him off the topic.
Moving the conversation on, I learn that, apart from his actors, Derick’s favourite topic of discussion is films. Although to be expected from a man clearly skilled in his trade, Martini talks at length on the inspiring work of others almost as much as the film we have met to discuss. A simple closing question about his favourite movie ends up in a passionate lecture of some of his favourite scenes in Goodfellas. “I could watch that over and over again and always get sucked in. The performances, the camera, the story – everything in that is just kind of perfect to me. And I can learn something new every time from watching it.”
This enthusiasm for the mechanics of film, he tells me, was instilled in him early on by the likes of Martin Scorsese, who is executive producer on Lyme Life. So, I wonder, was working with ”Mr Scorsese” as Derick respectfully calls him, not intimidating? “Ah yeah…very. Very,” says Martini in his sincere and thoughtful way. “I mean you don’t even have to work with him or know him to be influenced and learn from him. The guy’s amazing at what he does. He’s the godfather of film.” Clearly, working with his hero hasn’t diluted admiration for him.
Although he has been inspired and influenced by an experienced great, Lyme Life is undoubtedly Derick Martini’s own. Exuding familiarity, the film captures a kind of hollow nostalgia that could only come from a personal place. At one point, as I try to get my head around the tiny budget and 21 and a half days shooting time (he is keen to correct my suggestion of 22), Martini sums up his approach to his work: “That was the film I wanted to make and I made it in that period of time. If I had more time to think about it, since it was the first time I’d ever directed, I probably would have fucked it up”.
This simple, honest philosophy explains the results and creator perfectly. If Derick carries on in this vein and continues to let his script do the talking, I doubt surprise will be his knee-jerk reaction to acclaim.