Alert
Close

Join us at AARP's 2015 Life@50+ National Event and Expo in sunny Miami.  Learn more

Movie Review

'Lullaby': A Somber Song of Life and Death

A feel-good right-to-die movie? For this fine cast, it's worth a try

Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Stars: Amy Adams, Anne Archer, Jessica Brown Findlay, Garrett Hedlund, Terrence Howard, Jennifer Hudson, Richard Jenkins

Director: Andrew Levitas

Movie review begins beneath the video trailer.

A family drama centered on a terminally ill patriarch's decision to end his life is unlikely to score big at the box office. That's why first-time director Andrew Levitas — an actor-writer-artist who drew on his experience of witnessing his own father's decline to write the screenplay for Lullaby — deserves praise for stepping into a universe where few boldly go. His talented ensemble cast lifts Lullaby above the level of overly sentimental mush; regrettably, the film's clichéd dialogue, underdeveloped characters and needless subplots keep it from reaching its potential.

Amy Adams and Garrett Hedlund star in Lullaby.

Amy Adams and Garrett Hedlund star in "Lullaby," a somber song of life and the right to die. — ARC Entertainment

Sign up for the AARP Leisure Newsletter — and get movie reviews, great games and more delivered to you every month

Successful Manhattan businessman Robert Lowenstein, played by the highly skilled Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), has been battling cancer for 20 years. "My body is ruined," he tells his family after summoning them to his hospital bedside, where a respirator keeps him breathing.

His wife, Rachel (an obsequious Anne Archer, Oscar-nominated for Fatal Attraction), knows Robert plans to instruct his doctors to pull the plug, but his two grown children — aspiring musician Jonathan (a dreamy Garrett Hedlund of TRON: Legacy) and attorney-in-training Karen (Jessica Brown Findlay, Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey) — arrive unawares.

When Dad gives them the news, along with his dying wish that they host a Passover seder on his behalf in the medical center's chapel, neither child handles it well: Jonathan, a rebel who smokes in airplane bathrooms and hospital stairwells, plunges into emotional disarray. Karen vows to file an injunction to block her father from ending his life.

Jenkins is terrific, bringing nuance to the character of Robert, who has disbursed his fortune in advance of this final act because, as he says, "I've raised a couple of spoiled brats." Speaking with a raspy voice that breaks at just the right moments, Jenkins is funny, cunning and tender.

Not so his spouse and kids, who blurt out one-dimensional reactions that undermine what could have been an authentic portrayal of the conflicted dynamics common to most families. That said, Levitas has done a fine job in casting Terrence Howard as Robert's doctor and Jennifer Hudson as his primary nurse; both actors maximize their minimal screen time.

Perhaps to spring us from Robert's claustrophobic hospital suite (yes, this is a patient of privilege, and, yes, this drama might work better on stage), Levitas concocts a couple of go-nowhere subplots.

One involves the girlfriend (an underutilized Amy Adams, most recently in American Hustle) who just dumped Jonathan. A second tries to show Jonathan gaining acceptance by befriending a bald 17-year-old cancer patient (up-and-comer Jessica Barden) from the hospital's adolescent ward. Alas, neither detour does much to advance the central action or explore the thorny right-to-die debate.

While the seder scene lightens the otherwise maudlin story line, Lullaby's final act reeks of sentimental manipulation. Perhaps Levitas was, in the end, simply too close to his material. Had he stepped back and taken a second look for opportunities to enrich his characters, Lullaby could have been a great movie.

Meg Grant is West Coast Editor of AARP The Magazine.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Entertainment Blog

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Cirque Du Soleil

Members save up to 20% on live Cirque du Soleil shows with their AARP membership card.

Member Benefit AARP Regal 2

Members pay $8 for Regal ePremiere tickets purchased online. Conditions apply.

Movies Unlimited

Members save 10% on purchases of DVDs & Blu-ray discs from Movies Unlimited.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! Members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Movies for Grownups Radio

Download weekly podcasts of celebrity interviews, entertainment news and more.

 

Movies for Grownups Awards

AARP honors the films and filmmakers who make the movies we want to see.