Films that are based on true stories tend to go one of two ways. Either they stray from reality and people object, or they adhere to the original story, and the result is less-than-cinematic. Garth Davis’ recent film, “Lion,” leans toward the latter.
Saroo (Sunny Pawar) is a young boy living in Khandwa, India, with his mother (Priyanka Bose), his brother, Guddu (Abhishek Bharate) and sister, Shekila (Khushi Solanki). Usually tagging along with his brother while their mother moves rocks for a living, Saroo insists on going with Guddu to look for night work to make some extra money for the family. But Saroo is too young to pull an all-nighter and quickly tires, prompting Guddu to leave him sleeping on a bench at the train station until he finishes work. But Guddu never returns and, upon searching for him, Saroo accidentally boards a train that starts moving and doesn’t stop for a long time.
Saroo wanders for months, not knowing the language—he speaks Hindi, but the area he finds himself in is mostly Bengali-speaking. He escapes some pretty harrowing situations and ends up in an orphanage, where an Australian couple (David Wenham and Nicole Kidman) find and adopt him. Twenty years pass before Saroo decides to track his family down, and it becomes his obsession. He uses Google Maps to search the Indian landscape for familiar roads and landmarks along the train route and begins to ignore his family and girlfriend, Lucy (Rooney Mara).
Emotionally, the film packs a punch—the very idea of a lost son looking for his mother will bring some to tears—but, structurally, it feels a little flat. First, while the beginning of the film is certainly engaging, it seems to take a while to get to the promised premise. Saroo gets adopted about halfway through the movie, and his final search only takes about half an hour onscreen. This shifts the focus of the narrative slightly, though, at least, the theme is still prevalent. Whether it’s before he gets taken to the orphanage, or after he’s lived with new parents for 20 years, the majority of the film is about Saroo’s search for his family.
However, this brings up the second way that the film lacks depth. For someone so obsessed with finding his family at the end of the film, he must have thought very little of them for the 20 years in between. One scene has Saroo claiming to have been haunted by his brother’s calls every day of his life, but his lack of consistency before the moment of revelation almost discredits this idea. Perhaps, in real life, there was some sort of gradual process that brought him to search on Google Earth, but here, it seems a bit abrupt and contrived. Additionally, the whole of his relationship with Lucy seems frail when it is indicated that their entire relationship was shadowed by his obsession with finding his parents.
Regardless of the inconsistencies, “Lion” is a story laden with emotion, and those loving tearjerkers should flock to see it. Patel gives a dazzlingly rich performance, as does Pawar. For that first hour, your heart will be stolen. Kidman and Rooney add life to the cast, as do several of the other supporting players, including Bose as Saroo’s birth mother.
This one-dimensional tearjerker is still a decent use of two hours. “Lion” opens at Midtown Cinema on Jan. 6.
MIDTOWN CINEMA UPCOMING SPECIAL EVENTS
OSCAR WINNER SERIES
“Casablanca” (1942), Saturday, Jan. 14, 7 p.m.
“Rocky” (1976), Friday, Jan. 20, 9:30 p.m. ($3 for 3rd in the Burg)
“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1981), Saturday, Jan. 21, noon and 7 p.m.
“West Side Story” (1961), Saturday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m.
DOWN IN FRONT!
Comedy improv riffs on “The Terror” (1963), Friday, Jan.13, 9:30 p.m.
NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE PRESENTS
“No Man’s Land”, Sunday, Jan. 15, 6 p.m.
DANCE ON SCREEN PRESENTS
“Swan Lake”, Feb. 5 at 5 p.m. presented in partnership with Central PA Youth Ballet
MIDTOWN CINEMA OSCAR PARTY
Feb. 26. Tickets on sale now.
Author: Sammi Leigh Melville