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Lion: Aaja, aaja.
By Alex Carrigan
*Editor's Note: This article is part of a review series by Alex Carrigan from February 14-24. To learn about the series, visit this post.
Here we are on Day 3, and I find my first bump in the series. I'm not talking about a rescheduling bump like the other day, but a bump in reaction. La La Land and Hell or High Water got reactions out of me for most of their running times. Whether it was a charming musical number or a tense bank robbery scene, I felt a lot during the running times. With Lion, I found myself grasping to react to something throughout the film, which I found strange considering the story should have gotten me the whole way through.
Lion is based on the true story of Saroo Brierley, an Indian boy who got separated from his rural village after accidentally boarding a train heading for Calcutta. After months on his own, he is eventually adopted by an Australian family and grows up in Tasmania. As an adult (played by Dev Patel), memories of his childhood in India resurface and he sets out to find the family he left behind in India. This is a journey filled with longing, distant memories, and the practical use of Google Earth.
The issue I had with Lion is that it felt very rote throughout. I could tell what was meant to draw an emotion or reaction from the viewer, from the shots of Saroo alone on the streets to the vacant stare of adult Saroo on an Australian beach. There's nothing wrong with this, but I found it was sort of expected. Obviously, nearly everything here happened in real life and so it's not that difficult to understand why many of the scenes in the movie happen.
The problem is that none of this makes an entirely challenging movie. Not every film has to have the audacity to change cinema, but for a movie that's up for the Best Picture Oscar, it felt very passive. It's not a bad movie, and I do think it's a good one. Unfortunately, I find it quite unlikely that the film will have any impact or staying power after this year. Everything it does is serviceable, and I do think some of the performances and directional choices are good. I merely didn't find the film to be outstanding. To me, it looked like any movie I've seen set in India, and the story may be real, but there's been so many versions of it that I needed this film to go further to really stand out compared to the others.
Again, I don't think this is a bad movie. I did like it while I was watching it, and I imagine others will love it too. Ever since the Academy changed the rules for how many films can be nominated each year, there's always a few that are quite clearly long shots for the accolade. Last year, that included films like The Martian, Brooklyn, and Bridge of Spies. Lion feels like one of those films. It'll be remembered more for being nominated than for anything in the movie. Maybe it'll be shown in classrooms, but I'm pretty sure this movie won't mean as much to me later.
So where does Lion stand in comparison to other nominees? Quite poorly, I believe. Again, this is not because the movie is bad, but I find it hard to see any of Lion's six nominees being a shoe-in. Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman give good performances, but they're in categories that are stacked against them. Even then, I don't think either of them will be considered an upset if they lost. Patel was decent, but not great, while Kidman is nominated for one good monologue, so I think it will take a lot for either to win.
Overall, Lion is a good movie and does deserve some recognition, but I personally am not as taken by it as I know others might. There's plenty to enjoy, but it's not likely to win anything this year. It won't be too bad if it does win anything, and I don't feel like it needs to win anything to be enjoyed. It's merely the ur-example of the filler nominations that come with most Oscar nomination pools each year, and while it won't suffer too much, it's not going to really change anything or be remembered long after this ceremony.
Tomorrow: I take a look at Manchester by the Sea, a movie I saw one old lady try to see while everyone else at the ticket office was trying to see Rogue One. That should tell me a bit about it.