LION

 

This is a tale of two tales. The first half of this movie is compelling and emotionally engaging. It has a fantastic child performance and it says so many things about what is wrong with some aspects of the world that you will want to act after seeing some of it. The second half is anti-climactic for the most part. The extended story of our hero does not play out completely and it raises different issues that seem to be only tangentially related to what we started with. There is another solid performance as well, but it is overshadowed by the legacy of the younger version of our lead character.

Young Sunny Pawar plays the hero of the story, a kid named Saroo, who gets separated from his family in one of the biggest and most populated countries in the world. The circumstances of his “disappearance” are accidental, but much of the trauma that follows is deliberate and frightening. He is a child of maybe five, several hundred miles from home, in which direction he has no idea, and the only name he knows his Mother by is Mum. The family was scratching out a living doing manual labor and pilfering small amounts of commodities that are unwatched. He ends up in Calcutta, a city teeming with people, many of whom are looking to exploit a child.

We want authority figures and government agencies to be reliable, but as they appear here, it seems they are as much a part of the problem as some of the criminal element. There are some competent people who do finally end up helping Saroo connect with a different family in a country even further away. When Sunny Pawar is playing the character of Saroo, everything seems real and the stakes are so high as to keep us enthralled. When a twenty year period goes by with a single title card, and Saroo is played by Dev Patel, the stakes seem so much lower and the emotions feel like they are straining for significance. Saroo’s identity crisis might have been a solid film if the movie had worked backwards. Instead it plays out like some psychological drama that would make an interesting hour on TV.

The complicated relationship the adult Saroo has with his adopted family is told in the most bare bones way possible. There are cryptic references to his adopted brother’s drug use and emotional damage. Nicole Kidman as his adopted mother spends a lot of her time weeping for the problems of Mantosh, her second adopted child but Saroo never reaches out to either his mother or father for help in his crisis. They are the two most supportive parents you can imagine, and he is so wound up about his memories of his real brother and mother, that he can’t bother to ask for help. This section of the movie is so frustrating because we can’t figure out why he feels that way. Even when he has a supportive girlfriend to exchange exposition with.

I know this is based on a true story. When the film ends and we get some clips and a scroll of the truth, it is very compelling. If the film had been a documentary, or the story structure were different, I think I’d have been really more impressed. As it is, I liked the movie a lot, but it depended on the resolution of the search to redeem a dull passage that takes up a big chunk of the film. I’ve heard award talk about Patel and Kidman, but if anyone in this movie deserves to be honored for their performance, it is a little boy from India who made us care in the first place.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

If ever a movie would have been fine without a sequel, this continuing story of the elderly residents of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India would probably qualify. In the first story, all the loose ends seemed wrapped up, the key characters who were moving on did so and the ones who were staying appeared to have things under control. Of course when you make nearly a $140 million at the box office on a $10 million dollar investment, it is hard to walk away from the table. You have to figure that you are playing with the house’s money so why not take a shot?

Fortunately, instead of being a straight money grab like the two sequels to “Taken” have been, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” has a few pieces of pleasure to dispense. There is nothing here that is essential to a story, but if you enjoyed the company of the cast in the first movie, there are some nice moments to get reacquainted and to have a mild laugh or two. If you never see this film, you are not depriving yourself, but if you do, you are certainly not hurting either yourself or the memory of the earlier movie.

This time out the culture clash is keep to a minimum, and in fact, the main characters are emerged in their new home and culture very nicely. The outside influence this time is the involvement of a major American Company that has been asked to invest in a franchise of the original establishment and expanded capacity. A brief¬† visit to America by young Sonny the Hotel Manager played by Dev Patel with Maggie Smith’s Miss Donnelly as adviser, brings the promise of an investigation of the facility by the potential partners. Lickity split, two new arrivals appear at the hotel and Sonny begins to lose control and allows jealousy and fear to blind him to his behaviors. His upcoming wedding becomes the playground for several episodes of embarrassing humor and for a little bit of drama.

We see less of the gritty part of India in this chapter and instead focus more on the festive. I had the pleasure once of attending an Indian wedding here in Southern California, or I should say one part of an Indian wedding because it seems that there are several rituals to go through. The different events each allow an escalation in the tension (what little there is) but mostly provide a beautiful backdrop for music, dancing and costumes of the sub-continent. The mild romantic endeavors of the aging sweethearts are side shows to the nuptials of the young couple. There is some silly business about an accidental contract put out on one of the women, a slow realization that wealth is less important than compatibility, and a final push toward the edge of commitment for couples that do not have that much time left to commit. None of it means anything, it is like it’s predecessor, a frothy confection for the over 50 set who don’t want to see an action film or a science fiction film this month.

Richard Gere shows up and while his hair has always been prematurely white or grey, he looks this time like he is actually moving into the golden years, still handsome but a little more weathered. Bill Nighy continues to play the same hesitant, nearly stammering older character that has been so delightful in earlier films, although it does seem he commits to the role a bit. Judy Dench dashes through the film with as much screen time as any other character but with less importance to her role than many of the other characters. Maggie Smith manages to be funny this time without the racial jibes that made her character irascible in the last film.   If the India of this film, were the India of the real world, I might be tempted to retire there myself. I have learned however that a movie and reality are rarely partners and instead I will enjoy the view from my seat and move on to another exotic location in the next film I see.