The main reason to see “Lion,” the latest release by the Weinstein Boys, is Sunny Pawar, an 8 year old actor whose tiny teeth make him look far younger and more precocious. I dare you not to smile when Saroo (his character) pronounces the English words for salt and pepper and I double-dare you not to weep at his predicament - having jumped onto a train that took him 1,000 miles from home and Mum, the only name he knows for his mother. His native smarts enable him to escape all sorts of entrapment by unsavory predators until he is finally adopted by an honorable Australian couple who adore him and raise him with love and advantages he would never have known in his poverty-stricken village. this segment of the film is poignant and appropriately touching until Saroo becomes a young adult played by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel.
For the next 40 minutes or so, the film loses focus, becoming strident and repetitive as Saroo realizes that he must reclaim his past and find his birth family, with few facts to go on. The action takes on the semblance of “filler,” with little dialogue but lots of weltschmerz as Saroo bemoans his fate to his girlfriend (Rooney Mara) and secretly tries to find his village by calculating the distance the train traveled from there to Calcutta over the course of 3 days. Fortunately, Saroo has Google-Map and colorful pegs to help him solve the mystery, along with the support of Rooney whose empathy derives from the premature loss of her own dear mother. Tolstoy knew that every family has its own share of tsuris - even those living in first-world conditions.
I won’t reveal the ending except to say that as with too many other movies lately, this one is based on a true story so the real people appear in the coda and reveal how skillful the casting director was in making Nicole Kidman play your average Tasmanian housewife who might adopt not one, but two Indian orphans. Though this is all very heartwarming, it’s tediously slow watching Patel’s hair get longer and messier - a sign of his inner distress - and really boring seeing the same clips we’ve seen before revived too many times. This movie desperately needs a ruthless editor to eliminate whole segments - such as the disturbed second adopted child whose story goes nowhere - and cut at least 1/2 hour from Saroo’s staring at the Google-Map and thinking. Best of all would be a grand finale with the real parent and the screen actors doing a Bollywood dance that would have us all leaving the theater joyfully instead of checking our watches and heaving a sigh of relief that this attenuated film finally reached The End.
p.s. you have to stay to the end to find out what the title Lion has to do with any of the above - or just ask someone who has already seen the movie and have a savory Indian dinner instead.
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