“Lion”

Though this film cries for editing, a five-year-old lost in the streets of Calcutta is quite a harrowing adventure to view. The fact that it is a true story makes each scene all the more mesmerizing. Based on the memoir “A Long Way Home”, we are carried across two continents, India and Australia, in following the life path of our lost urchin.

Divided into two parts, “Lion” focuses on the wet-eyed Indian pre-schooler and the twenty-year-old Australian college student in meshing the past with the future. Dev Patel is Saroo, as soulfully lost as his younger self  (played hauntingly by Sunny Pawar)  is adrift and forsaken. Screenwriter Luke Davies adapts Saroo Brierley’s story of his adoption and his search for his biological family with just enough tension and circumstance. The early scenes are riveting and dream-like at the same time. A five-year-olds’ awareness of danger and the balance of wanting to please is astoundingly captured. That this little boy was not  is made more sobering with the final screen numbers: over eighty thousand children go missing every year in India.

Director Garth Davis draws out the best in his actors. Sunny Pawar is mesmerizing. His “I can lift anything” is all boy. Dev Patel as college student, both depressed and in love, draws memories. His friendships are lovely, his respect for past and present made clear and celebrated. It is Guddu (Abhisek Bharate) who will  remain in this viewer’s mind. How does a teenager forgive himself for botched responsibility? Or did he not return to his brother’s bench because he was killed by a train that very night ?  “Lion” will send filmgoers to the page, like so many good films have done.

Nicole Kidman is so self-possessed as Susan Brierley, Saroo’s adoptive mother, that we forget her stardom. Likewise, David Wenham  loses himself in his part as adoptive father. The reality they create as idealistic nurturers is painfully beautiful. Their second adopted son, Mantosh (Kesha Jadhav), helps underscore the many pitfalls  damaged children have in adjusting to familiar life. Kidman’s motherly tears of joy and of anguish are high performance art.

The cinematography of the vast beauty of India is seen in overhead, aerial shots. Google maps are given some practical play. Street scenes of threatening dogs, cardboard pallets, and gangs of homeless children running from guards, or worse, temper the picture. My favorite scene was of the kind man eating in the restaurant window. Saroo sits on the curb and mimics his soup spoon rising and falling. Lovely camera work captures  a social worker in interview, a crowded orphanage, candles and prayers to Krishna, and the prize of an apple core. Monsoon rains under a bridge and the opening of a refrigerator in Australia catch strong emotions. Flashbacks are smoothly done by association. Memory is all. When we hear the words, “Come with me”, we cheer with the village. This Aussie film is up-lifting and worth our privileged time.

 

 

 

 

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”

On occasion when I am not particularly looking forward to a sequel,I will let a few weeks pass and let others see it first. I remember enjoying the 2012 “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel For The Elderly and The Beautiful” all the while knowing that the film was capitalizing on my age group and beyond. The characters were well drawn and the pace was delightful in its introductions and comminglings. Friends varied in their feelings for “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” 2015. Three friends raved ,two did not like it and one actually reviewed it with a theater worker’s comment, “a Marvel action film for senior citizens”. I saw it with my husband this afternoon because I had to see for myself,and it was a rainy Monday. We both felt the sequel fell short of our low expectations.

Three years is a long time to remember the circumstances of all the varied players.I can’t imagine seeing the sequel without having seen the original. I will flatly state don’t try it. You are immediately thrown into a California scene where Maggie Smith and Dev Patel are in a convertible driving down Route 66. They magically end up in San Diego, not in L.A. The fast-talking Sonny (Dev Patel) is seeking financing for his second hotel. We guess that Muriel Donlevy (Maggie Smith) is brought along for her “economy of expression”. We later learn her part in the second enterprise is more critically important.

After suffering through some weak lines about weak tea,we are back in India at the local ex-pat. club learning that the boarders all have part-time jobs be it watering down the wine,guiding tours badly,or buying pashminas and fabric for a retail company. The hotel is home of the “happy hunters”, many looking for sex and companionship. Madge(Celia Imrie)has one of the worst lines. On seeing Guy Chambers (Richard Gere)register, she yelps “Lordy,Lordy, have mercy on my ovaries”.

Other banalities ensue. “It takes teamwork to make a dream work” and “We can still shake it,you know”. “Good things don’t come on their own,one must make them.” “Water doesn’t flow until you turn on the tap” and “No one is checking out until the ultimate ‘check-out'” are bromides less than wise.Snarky comments like,”what a busy little pensioner bee” and questions like,”When was your last check-up?” are the funniest.

There are too many mini-vignettes to enumerate besides a major engagement party and a wedding. Instead of the end of things and the beginning of things, we see a continuation of the same misunderstandings and befuddlements. Should we have more respect for our elders? Well, if they deserve it. Too many of this lot are still into scheming,bartering,cheating and insinuating. Don’t expect much wisdom here. These guys are still trying to figure life out, but for one exception. The wisest,Muriel, (Maggie Smith) gets the voice overs and the right to call Sonny a self-pitying mess-up.

I loved the dancing and the Indian music and ambiance. Tina Desai was beautiful as Sunaina,the bride. I hated the “novelist” hoax with the weakest lines I have ever heard Richard Gere deliver.Dev Patel reminded my husband and me of Ray Romano in his goofiness. I missed Tom Wilkerson and thought Bill Nighy and Judi Dench mis-matched. Whether the “Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is “franchised or foot-noted” better not be up to me for director John Madden’s sake.