Sunday, December 4, 2016

Dev Patel in LION

As I write this, the FXM cable channel is airing THE RAINS OF RANCHIPUR.  The glossy 1955 Fox drama starring Lana Turner and Richard Burton is a remake of Fox's 1939 film, THE RAINS CAME starring Tyrone Power and Myrna Loy.  In both films, a spoiled aristocrat Anglo wife in a loveless marriage falls for a handsome noble Indian while she's in India.  During her stay, a disastrous flood occurs which causes a cholera epidemic.  Tyrone Power and Richard Burton were white actors in "tropical" make-up to play the Indian objects of desire.  If this movie was remade today, the romantic Hindu role could go to the talented young British actor, DEV PATEL.  He's no longer the gangling, sweetly geeky guy of SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL and the HBO series, THE NEWSROOM.  He's now a handsome hunk and his hunky new appearance is one of the best visuals in LION.
I loved Dev Patel in LION.  I had a lukewarm reaction to the movie on the whole.  It's a film determined to make you cry.  Did it make me cry?  No. I wasn't manipulated by the calculated tear-jerker elements of the screenplay.  Based on a true story, Dev Patel plays a young man born into the abject poverty of India.  When he's about 5 years old. he gets separated from his family.  He's separated thousands of miles away because he wandered off from his family on a train and fell asleep in a different car.  When he awoke, he was alone and about to have the kind of bleak childhood experiences that would've inspired Charles Dickens to write another novel.
20 years later, he's the adopted son of an Australian couple with quite the sunny disposition.  Saroo (Patel) has been living a comfortable life with them.  Rooney Mara stars as Saroo's girlfriend.  But Saroo is suddenly haunted by memories of his miserable youth, separation and previous family members. This will cause friction with the couple that adopted him.  Nicole Kidman stars as the Australian woman committed to giving the adopted child a better life.
Saroo's flashbacks cause him to consult maps to trace his origins.  It's then that LION becomes one long commercial for Google Earth.  Here's a trailer.

Why didn't it make me cry?  Well, we have the first half with the remarkable Sunny Pawar as little Saroo in nightmarish conditions as a lost boy.  Cut to grown Saroo in middle class comfort.  Then his early memories start bothering him.  There wasn't a smooth transition from bleak boyhood to pleasant middle class young manhood and flashbacks of despair.  The screenplay needed something more.
There's good acting in LION.  Patel is good and looks good.  Back in the day, the shots of Dev Patel shirtless in blue jeans would've been printed on posters to adorn the bedrooms of teen girl movie fans.  He's definitely now romantic lead material.  Kidman has a deep personal attachment to adoption and it shines through in her performance.  I didn't like the way the girlfriend role that Rooney Mara plays was written.

Saroo's desire to relocate his birth mother, to rediscover his roots, could cause major tension with the the Australians who adopted him and gave him a new life.  This business is something he needed to bring up with them private.  But his Caucasian girlfriend casually nags him to bring the subject up while she's a guest at the family dinner table with him, his special needs adopted brother and his Australian parents.  The family dinner table is the biggest birthplace of drama since ancient Greece.  What the heck was she thinking?  I found myself wishing that Saroo's girlfriend had been the one who got lost in Calcutta.  However, the young man will trace his roots and come to learn more about the woman who adopted him.

LION runs about 2 hours and 10 minutes.  With a tighter and smoother script, it could've been delivered in a touching 1 hour and 50 minutes.

I did love seeing Dev Patel "grow up" in this movie and take on a new image.  I hope Hollywood tosses him some of the same script opportunities it usually sends to James Franco, Ryan Gosling and Chris Pine.



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