Written by: Suzi Yoonessi
Starring: Savanah Wiltfong, Shayne Topp, Zane Huett, Melissa Leo, Beth Grant, Elaine Hendrix
Relationships formed from a young age can leave such an impressionable mark, especially in our teenage years. These relationships define us and can consume our whole world if we let it, which is where our lovable protagonist finds herself in the quirky and fun Dear Lemon Lima. A film showing the value of friendship and the importance of forming our own identity.
Having life completely figured out at 13 years old with her boyfriend, Vanessa Lemor (Savanah Wiltfong) gets her life flipped upside down with their break up. With him seemingly thriving since the break-up, she gains a resolve to try and win him back.
Dating in the teen years has the impact seen in this film because of the lack of perspective we have at this age. Many of these couples say they love each other and will be together forever, but reality paints a completely different picture. Vanessa’s entire life seemingly revolved around her relationship with Philip (Shayne Topp) that everything else gets tossed to the side. It makes their break up such a devastating experience for her. To make matters worse, when they dated they both stood at the same level socially in the school, but with Philip going to Europe and learning French over the summer, he instantly leapfrogs into the popular kids. This leaves Vanessa alone and in need to make new friends.
The group she forms of other unpopular kids shows a group of individuals looking to build some sort of community. None of them fit into the cliques formed at this school and the way they come together provides such vibrancy and love in this story. The reason for their unpopularity becomes evident but the connection they make with each other pushes against the typical clique culture you would find in the average school. Vanessa’s friends become her support system and help her see past the need to have everything in her life revolve around Philip.
Framing the story of Vanessa appears in her journaling, and she addresses Lemon Lima, as indicated in the title of the film. This, like many films framed through journaling, allows us to see the inner workings of Vanessa’s mind. A tactic difficult under normal circumstances but the journaling certainly helps let Vanessa’s words and thoughts have a bit of separation. This journaling also allows for her imagination to shine, which becomes a major part of her personality and why she may resonate with young girls watching this story. The imaginary parts jump out onto the screen and add some visual flair to everything happening around the protagonist.
Accepting herself becomes a major thematic throughline for Vanessa, because of the way she let her life be controlled by her boyfriend, but also her heritage. She used her Western Eskimo background to get a scholarship to attend school, but she hides it in nearly every other interaction because it does not match what she believes will make her approachable and liked by others. A struggle I’m sure many young students from marginalized identities can attest to. Vanessa has the privilege of passing as white to her contemporaries, which makes the hiding of her heritage possible.
Directing this feature, we have Suzi Yoonessi, who truly impresses with this being her debut feature film. She truly gets to the heart of the experience of being a teenage girl and the pressures surrounding them in a social and relational context. Yoonessi allows her voice to shine through these quirky characters in the way she creates bonds of unity for them in the most unlikely of scenarios. The uplifting message throughout the film has such vibrancy because the characters introduced to us are incredibly lovable in the way they approach life. Yoonessi truly put together an enjoyable experience.
Love at a young age will never be the end all be all of life, which Vanessa begins to learn after her heartbreak in this fun and inspiring teen film. It brings together some over the top characters but does so in a way where they reflect the people we certainly went to school with. Dear Lemon Lima proves to be something beneficial to show to any teenager struggling with the fickle relationships we have in the adolescent stage of life.