One expects certain things from award season films. Competent crafstmanship, primarily, and typically actor-strong material. They will, of course, en masse tend to reflect Hollywood’s callow social and political sensibilities (to say nothing of their preferred emotional states) but individual films have some leeway. Also, when Weinstein is involved, all bets are off: That guy can pimp a film.
But it says something—something that irritated The Boy in particular—that the lobby stand-up for Lion called it a “feel-good movie”. It’s not, really: It’s just not a feel-horrible film, which is, shall we say, a popular motif amongst award-bait films.
The story is this: Young Saroo nags his older brother to take him on a night job that he’s really too young for, but the older brother gives in only to find that Saroo can’t even stay awake. He lets the boy sleep while presumably chasing after work, and when Saroo awakens the station is empty and he is alone with no idea how to get home. An inopportune bit of exploration finds him aboard a train travelling over a thousand miles away from home, to a Bengali part of India where nobody speaks his language (Hindi) or recognizes his town name.
The first act of the movie consists of young Saroo’s adventures trying to get home, fleeing the multitudinous predators in Calcutta, and it is tremendous. Young Saroo is admirable, brave and resourceful, and the streets of India are parlous indeed. Worse still, it seems, is the orphanages, which are basically prisons.
Then Saroo is adopted by Nicole Kidman and David Wenham (300, Public Enemies) which provides a few moments of interest as Kidman (who seems to have recovered from her plastic surgery) gets to pour her heart out to the orphan boy. We also see another adoptee, who seems to be autistic or otherwise (mildly) brain-injured, and how that plays with Saroo.
Now, cut to 2008, and Saroo is grown up, played by Dev Patel (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Slumdog Millionaire) and a chance encounter with a pastry turns the all-Australian boy into a Man Obsessed By His Past.
This is a little weak.
Now, this is based on a true story, and one cannot dismiss out-of-hand that Saroo simply internalized the “can’t possibly find home” idea until a pastry and Google Earth (seriously!) turned him back on to the idea. But I felt like (similar to AKA Nadia) we needed to see some of this. What it looks like is pretty-okay-to-say-nothing-of-darn-fortunate young man suddenly decides to treat everyone around him like crap because he’s suddenly got the fever. It may simply have happened this way, of course: the actual Saroo Brierly may have never given it a second thought for 20 years, and acting like a jerk might’ve seemed to be the go-to move.
But this is kind of my wheelhouse: I love movies about obsession and tend to be very forgiving toward obsessed characters. Which I’m sure is no reflection whatsoever on my own personality. But I had trouble relating to the guy and I shouldn’t have.
The Boy was pretty much out at this point. He loved the first part of the movie, really didn’t like the second part, to the extent of giving the movie a disappointed and frustrated thumbs down. I probably would recommend anyway, though reservedly.
What kind of cracked me up was that a major plot point of the film was that young Saroo had mispronounced the name of his village. But I could parse the name just fine, and I know nothing about India. I mean, seriously, when they did the big reveal of his actual town name I was all, “Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought it was.” So that particular reveal didn’t work for me. The only thing I could think was that maybe out in Calcutta, they don’t know anything about Hinduism since the general region is predominately Muslim but, no, Hindus dominate the city.
So, go figger.
The final scenes work very well, no doubt, but of course they would: Any reasonably competent set of actors could have wrung tears with the scenario set up. I’m not knocking this: It worked well enough for me to recommend, but of course it didn’t manage to win The Boy back over.
But! It’s not super-depressing. Which I guess makes it the “feel good movie” of the season. (Maybe everyone in La La Land has cancer, I haven’t seen it yet.)