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Jill Hennessy shines in dude-focused Lymelife 

Lymelife, a new movie starring Jill Hennessy and Alec Baldwin, deals with families in crisis and an unlikely culprit, Lyme disease.

Jill Hennessy is a few minutes late for her phone interview. She's busy tuning her guitar in preparation for afternoon performances on MTV Canada and E-Talk. The earthy-voiced actor---best known for her television roles as straight-shooting A.D.A. Claire Kincaid on the original Law & Order, and as the emotionally messed-up medical examiner Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh on Crossing Jordan---is releasing an album of "alternative folk rock" in June.

Hennessy isn't in Toronto promoting her music though. She's joining filmmaker Steven Martini to discuss their new film, Lymelife, in which Hennessy stars, along with a super-strong cast that includes Alec Baldwin, Kieran and Rory Culkin, Timothy Hutton, Cynthia Nixon and Emma Roberts. The family drama, executive produced by Martin Scorcese, was co-written and directed by Martini and his brother, Derrick, who became a dad for the first time the night before the interview.

A strongly autobiographical film (like a gentler The Squid and the Whale or The Ice Storm) set in mid-1970s Long Island, Lymelife employs an unlikely catalyst---Lyme disease, which is transmitted from deer tick bites---to slowly and painfully unravel the lives of two families. "When I was a kid, my girlfriend, Adriana, her father had Lyme disease," says Martini. "It's based off of that first love experience that destroys you. We did our research on Lyme disease, and during the period it was still mysterious and unknown. We thought that was more apropos to the story we were telling."

Scott Bartlett (Rory Culkin) is in love with his childhood friend, Adrianna Bragg (Roberts), whose father Charlie (Hutton) has contracted Lyme disease, which besides a range of physical affects, can also cause cognitive disturbances. The outbreak fuels worry in Scott's mother Brenda (Hennessy), who insists on duct-taping every opening of his clothing shut. Meanwhile, Adrianna's mother (Nixon) is hired by Scott's father Mickey (Baldwin) to work at his real estate company, selling the dream of suburban life in a new subdivision. Tension is high, especially after the arrival of Scott's brother Jimmy (Kieran Culkin), home from the army.

Because of the film's connections to the Martini brothers' own lives and stories---their parents also moved from Queens to Long Island during the height of the mid-1970s suburban sprawl---discussing the film with their folks was a tough proposition. "For a while we didn't want them to know what we were doing," says Martini. "We thought, 'Oh Jesus Christ, they're going to see this and be utterly embarrassed,' but eventually they realized that we were making something out of something we thought was a failure in our family; that we made something that was constructive and creative and ultimately, they're really happy we were able to do that and proud that they had a hand in our growth of artistic expression as storytellers."

Although Lymelife is definitely a dude-focused movie---written by two brothers, starring two brothers---Hennessy appreciates that the female characters actually have purpose and stories of their own, which is not always the case in film-land. "I found it so well drawn, man," she says. "So often female characters---girlfriend characters, mothers---are peripheral characters that in some way are totally ineffective with regards to the plot and pushing things along. This was the opposite. I love this character. Where she begins, where she ends. Her range of passion and fear. Emma Roberts, Cynthia Nixon---all these characters go through these huge turns. It's nice to see an ensemble where the characters that are written into the script are so fleshed out, are so poignant and moving, and disturbing."

Although Hennessy and her twin sister Jacqueline, a Canadian journalist who once appeared with Jill in the Cronenberg twin horror Dead Ringers, would tease and fight, "we would never get down and dirty like these guys. But boy, other than that, there's not much of a difference." It was this universality that attracted her to Lymelife: "Every family has things they don't want necessarily to confront and things that do want to come out that tend to be ugly. That's what I loved about this---it was so bloody uncomfortable. Wow, they really captured the elements that can make up the experience of a child in a family."

Lymelife opens Friday, May 8.


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