July 12, 2009 |

Dear Lemon Lima

Stealing the hearts of everyone who has sees this film, DEAR LEMON LIMA is the most charming, genuine, cute, sweet and utterly adorable film!!!!!! Cotton candy colored joy. As soon as the film ended, I wanted to see it again. The film makes your heart smile.

DEAR LEMON LIMA is the story of Vanessa Lemor, a lonely 13 year old living in Alaska. Her father is from the Yup’ik Eskimo tribe and her mother a plain old Caucasian, making Vanessa somewhat of a halfbreed and the brunt of jokes by the kids at school. Her Eskimo heritage is also something that she chooses to ignore. A girly girl, My Little Pony, rainbows, pinks, purples, beads, hearts, flowers, and a 14 year old boy named Philip (complete with pages and pages of the requisite "I love Philip" doodles) fill her life. Every day she writes in her diary to her imaginary friend, DEAR LEMON LIMA. In the summer, she runs an ice cream store in the middle of a park. Intelligent but unathletic, she is always the last person picked for any team in sports but the first one people may go to for homework help. But despite this, Vanessa is her own woman. She stands up for her beliefs and for her true love, at least until she gets dumped because a "man" of Philip’s experience can’t be bothered with a childhood friend and must move on to more adult relationships.

Determined to win back her true love, Vanessa spends the summer plotting and planning. Luckily, she is awarded a minority scholarship at the private academy Philip attends. Unfortunately, however, she is relegated to classification as a "FUBAR" which makes her lower than dirt in the eyes of her schoolmates. Sadly, she doesn’t even know what FUBAR means. And even worse, Philip is anything less than kind to her. But, an opportunity presents itself that just may be Vanessa’s ticket to love - the Snowstorm Survivor Championship, an event inspired by Native events in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics. Unfortunately, or not, despite her lack of athletic skills, Vanessa is not only appointed a team captain but is the only freshman team captain.

Believing that winning the Championship will win back her true love, Vanessa assembles the most unlikely of teammates - the adorable little weakling and socially inept Hercules Howard , pathological liar Samantha who insists that her father is rapper Puff Daddy, Madeline Amigone aka Nothing, a slightly overweight intellectual whose parents own the local funeral parlor, and Emmeline and Lynne Chin. As training begins, friendships develop, allegiances and loyalties are tested, and 13 year old Vanessa gets some valuable lessons in life, love and knowing yourself.

With the opening frame, your heart just jumps for joy. Writer/director Suzi Yoonessi captivates and captures with bright, vivid girly animation, setting the color palette of the film and tenor of the characters in one fell swoop. You immediately have to go "awww, how adorable." And you are hooked. Shot in Seattle, key to the success of this film and its characters is the incorporation and authenticity of Alaskan Native elements for which assistance was given by the 13 tribal councils in Alaska, and particularly as to native Yup’ik dances and customs which are an integral part of the film.

The story itself is enchanting. Every girl and female out there should be flocking to see this film. I don't think there isn't one of us that can’t not relate to that puppy love crush with the doodling and flowery writing and the blend of teenage angst. Unicorns. Candy hearts. Rainbows. Puffy clouds. Stars. Hearts. Perfectly priceless.

As for casting...impeccable, starting with Savanah Wiltfong as Vanessa. Half Yuk’ip, Savanah came into this production after she posted an audition of herself on YouTube which made its way onto the computer screens of Yoonessi. With only a few small local junior high school productions to her credit, Savanah wowed Yoonessi and one look at her on screen and you can see why. She is luminous. At this early age, she has dead pan delivery and comedic timing and a sincerity and warmth that is infectious. Further complimenting her performance here is the fact that she was familiar not only with Yuk’ip dances but the WEOI games and the events which are detailed and extremely specific. I had the pleasure of speaking with Savanah at the Los Angeles Film Festival and she is simply a delight. A girly girl on the outside, she was extremely excited telling me about her dress for the red carpet premiere of the film. Her effervescent exuberance just bubbles forth with every move, every comment, every smile. And above all - she is genuinely nice. Does she want to continue in acting? Just watch out world. There’s a new face on the horizon.

Zane Huett will steal your heart as little Hercules. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Zane’s work, pop in a DVD of "Desperate Housewives" where Zane plays Parker Scavo. As Hercules, he has the maturity and stoicism of a 40 year old crammed into the body of a 12 year old year. He is exacting in his performance and makes the most lovable nerd you could ever hope to meet.

Turning to the bane of Vanessa’s existence is the character of Philip played by relative newcomer Shayne Topp as Philip Georgey (aka P.I.G.) who walks a double edged sword of outward male teenaged obnoxiousness (aka the Big Man on Campus syndrome) and an internal desire to still be friends with his best childhood friend, Vanessa. Shayne is engaging, witty, funny and a guy that we all knew during our youth (and for some of us, even now). He really hits his mark and has found a niche with dry sarcastic wit. Winning a special award at LA Film Festival for Outstanding Performance in Narrative Feature, just watching a few moments of him on screen presence and you will understand why this is just the start of many accolades to come.

As for the adult members of this ensemble, DEAR LEMON LIMA is a pantheon of talent starting with Elaine Hendrix as gym Coach Roach. Absolutely HYSTERICAL!!!!!! Looking as unglamorous as I have ever seen her, Hendrix puts a brusk, brutish, gung-ho take on Coach Roach and nevermoreso then when demonstrating a two man carry, Eskimo style. You won’t stop laughing each time she comes on screen. And how about Independent Spirit Award winner and Best Actress Oscar nominee, Melissa Leo? As Hercules’ mother, "Mrs. Howard," she is the embodiment of dowdy, old, frustrated, annoying and always obedient wife and mother. Again, the minute she appears on screen, you have to laugh. Not to be outdone, Beth Grant steps in as by the book Principal Applebomb who just happens to be the faculty sponsor of Vanessa’s team in competition. Of the adult actors, Grant is the one with an almost complete 180 degree character evolution filled with comedy and heart that is a joy to watch.

With the opening frame, your heart just jumps for joy. Writer/director Suzi Yoonessi captivates and captures with bright, vivid girly animation, setting the color palette of the film and tenor of the characters in one fell swoop. You immediately have to go "awww, how adorable." And you are hooked. Shot in Seattle, key to the success of this film and its characters is the incorporation and authenticity of Alaskan Native elements for which assistance was given by the 13 tribal councils in Alaska, and particularly as to native Yup’ik dances and customs which are an integral part of the film.

Yoonessi is a gifted storyteller and director. The story itself is enchanting. Every female out there, young and old alike, should be flocking to see this film. I don't think there isn't one of us that can’t not relate to that puppy love crush with the doodling and flowery writing and the blend of teenage angst. Unicorns. Candy hearts. Rainbows. Puffy clouds. Stars. Hearts. Perfectly priceless.

Technically, DEAR LEMON LIMA is so above par not only for most festival films (which is where this debuted), but films as a whole. Solid production values. Impeccable blend of animation and live action. Colors are rich, vibrant and just pop - like being in a candy store. Balancing that look are the pastels of valentine heart candies used thematically throughout the film in walls and clothing. A lot of thought went into creating this beautiful palette.

The film’s pacing is impeccable and allows Yoonessi to capture the progressive nature and essence of teenaged angst and puppy love to a tee. What also makes this film special and so appealing is her handling of a tragedy (NO SPOILER HERE!) which she addresses tactfully with a tacit grace and ease. Her attention to detail in every aspect of the film is meticulous - from casting to characterization to costumes to Sarah Levy’s cinematography which capitalizes not only on the geographic beauty of the region but the color palette of Vanessa’s world. Interestingly, Yoonessi’s lead actors not only had to learn and master Native dance, but they also had to learn American Sign Language and Spanish as all are integrated into the story.

Make DEAR LEMON LIMA your film friend as it makes its way through the film festival circuit and then onto the big screen at your local theatres. For those of you in the Los Angeles area, you can even catch DEAR LEMON LIMA at Norris Hall on the USC campus on July 26, 2009.

DEAR LEMON LIMA - I love you. Your Friend, movie shark deblore

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