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Film review: Lemon Sisters, The

After some 12 years of reviewing movies, I should know better than to go into a picture like "The Lemon Sisters" carrying my hopes too high. But who would have thought this film would be quite so inept and frustrating?

An attempt at repeating the success of "Beaches," with three women friends instead of two finding their relationships strained through decades of trial, "The Lemon Sisters" is surprisingly awkward under the direction of Joyce Chopra, who gave us the wonderful little sleeper "Smooth Talk."

"The Lemon Sisters" is a series of strung-out vignettes with intermittent black-and-white flashbacks that occasionally take our three heroines back to the childhood beginnings of their bonding.

Diane Keaton, Carol Kane and Kathryn Grody are three women coming to terms with their mid-life failures, as well as the changing face of Atlantic City in 1982, with casinos taking over — and, in their opinions, destroying — the atmospheric boardwalk.

Keaton tries to keep open a museum of nostalgic television memorabilia, from Jack Benny's violin to Fess Parker's "Davy Crockett" coonskin cap to the jacket worn by Jackie Gleason and the hat worn by Art Carney in "The Honeymooners." But interest has waned in such things and she's losing money. Meanwhile, she is wooed by nice-guy cabbie Ruben Blades, who has trouble communicating with her.

Kane wants desperately to be a popular singer, but she has no talent, with the possible exception of inadvertent comedy from her ridiculous renditions of pop standards. She is pursued by opportunistic Aidan Quinn, who becomes her manager.

And Grody is trying to make a go of the taffy store her parents ran for years, with the help of her imaginative but impractical husband Elliott Gould and their rambunctious children and meddling housekeeper (Estelle Parsons).

The film vacillates between attempts to seriously explore the lives of the three women and their friendship and silly slapstick sequences that are awkwardly staged and not at all funny. One minute there is a party for Keaton that backfires and leaves the three feeling terrible and the next Keaton is mixing a drink in her blender without first putting the lid on.

The staging throughout the film is extremely uncomfortable and the script is superficial and occasionally bewildering.

Even more annoying, however, is Chopra's allowing the worst instincts of her actors to come to the fore. Keaton and Kane can be very mannered, and here they are both over the top, not the least bit convincing as real people.

In fact, the only really sympathetic character in the entire film is the one created by salsa singer/actor Ruben Blades, who is fast becoming a character player worth watching — he also had scene-stealing parts in "mo' better blues" and "The Two Jakes."

He's not enough to save the picture, however.

"The Lemon Sisters" is a real disappointment.

It is rated PG-13, but is more like PG, for a few profanities, and there are some copies of nude Greek statues prominently displayed.