7 August 2011 | napierslogs
A smart, boy-obsessed girl creating a unique, quirky indie
I have discovered a missing genre in the American film landscape: the smart, quirky girl teen comedy. Most notably with "Rushmore" (1998) and filmmakers like Wes Anderson, the smart, isolated male teen have become heroes in quirky indie films. Up until now, there hasn't really been a female equivalent. But here comes "Dear Lemon Lima" where our heroine is awkward and boy-obsessed, but she's also ambitious, kind-hearted and smart, and those are the qualities that drive this film.
Set in Alaska, Vanessa (or Nessa, as those close to her, and we, can call her) is half Eskimo, but not by choice. It's not that she wants to disown her Native heritage but it's her father who is Eskimo and he left when she was too young to remember him. She has a massive crush on Philip and after he "breaks up" with her, she transfers to his private school. And this school, in a backwards, conservative way, demands her to wear her race on her sleeve.
The characteristics that Nessa portrays are the same qualities that this film has. Her and Philip are smart. They speak in quips usually reserved for linguist perfectionists and they are extremely entertaining. They know sign language—just for the art of knowing it, and they know Spanish—to the delight of their Spanish teacher. It's also a delight for us in a fantastic scene where in class they have a debate about the distinctions of a good leader.
All good films must build to a conflict. Here the conflict is in the school's Snowstorm Survivor Competition (held in summer even though "there's no such thing as global warming") which is another backwards, conservative attempt for the school to show pride in their Native heritage. Philip and Nessa are two team captains. He built his team with the popular, strong kids while she built hers with the small, weak but compassionate kids. You can guess how this underdog sports story plays out.
For a comedy, it's not all that funny, and for such smart and charming lead characters, the supporting ones are just annoying. But for a quirky indie teen coming-of-age story, it mixes in the perfect amount of female passion. There's no shortage of ironic naming of the characters, or back-handed insults at the religious, right-wing crowd, and all with a teenage heroine who has a school-girl crush on a boy. "Dear Lemon Lima" subtly finds itself in a genre all its own.