Dear Lemon Lima (DVD Review)30 Jul, 2011 By: Billy Gil
Rated ‘PG-13’ for some thematic material and language.
Stars Melissa Leo, Meaghan Jette Martin, Vanessa Marano, Elaine Hendrix, Beth Grant.
Movies made for tweens and teens that are both age-appropriate and not condescending are hard to come by. Dear Lemon Lima succeeds in that aspect, but also as a film of uncommon wit and understanding about displacement.
Vanessa (adorable Savanah Wiltfong) is crushed when her first love, Phillip, dumps her to focus on his prep school and trip to Paris. She spends the summer working at a lonely ice cream stand in suburban Alaska and pining for him, much to her single mother’s chagrin — she tells her to write Phillip’s name on toilet paper. That is, until Vanessa is transferred to Phillip’s school for her upcoming freshman year — and also receives a scholarship based on her partial native heritage.
But Vanessa has to start from the bottom of the school’s “caste” system, as Phillip explains to her, relegated to the weight room in gym class with the other unathletic “fubars.” Not only that, but she is expected to know her heritage and lead a team in the school’s annual native-Alaskan physical competition, despite her said unathletic introversion and lack of knowledge of that part of her background.
In coming-of-age story fashion, Vanessa learns that narcissistic Phillip isn’t God’s gift and that her “tribe” of fubars, as she dubs them, are the people who truly understand her. However, the life lessons aren’t dealt heavy handedly — despite a jarring tragedy that takes place in the film — but rather are seen through the eyes of Vanessa, a smart, quirky space cadet relatable to anyone who had an awkward phase.
And the film scores extra points for its sly satire of a society that celebrates its native peoples to excuse their displacement — that’s not an easy feat in a high school teen movie, but it works, as Vanessa comes to understand herself within the context of her background and what is expected of her by others based on that. Comparisons to Juno and Napoleon Dynamite are apt, but Dear Lemon Lima, also lushly shot in picturesque Alaska, is a unique beast of its own.