This is a tough film to review. While it’s ultimately a ‘good’ film in the traditional sense, Lion so predictably baits viewers with its bloated themes of inspiration and perseverance that it gets old really fast. The entirety of the film plays out in such a melodramatic and neatly packaged way that the viewer never doubts for a second that there will be a happy ending.
Lion is the true story of Saroo, an Indian boy who was separated from his family at the age of five and ended up stranded in Calcutta, hundreds of miles from his hometown. Saroo narrowly escapes multiple dangerous situations including an abusive orphanage and being captured by child sex traffickers, to be adopted by a saintly white couple who take him to his new home in Australia. They soon adopt another child from the same orphanage who appears to have severe emotional issues that emerge in the form of violent self-harm. 25 years later, Saroo (Dev Patel) leaves home to go to school for hotel management, where he quickly begins a textbook, lovey-dovey relationship with Lucy (Rooney Mara), complete with a quirky dance scene. Soon after his enrollment, Saroo’s childhood memories come surging back, triggered by the sight of a traditional Indian food that was conveniently established in the first act. He quickly becomes fixated on the prospect of reconnecting with his family through this newfangled modern technology called Google Earth. Saroo’s determination leads him through a near-impossible search, trying to piece together what little detail he remembers about his hometown and how to get back.
Saroo’s emotional journey is undeniably compelling, albeit in the most standard and unoriginal way. The performances by the main cast are more than adequate, the cinematography is flawless yet uninteresting, and the dramatic score booms through every scene like a laugh track, guiding your emotional response. It’s got every aspect of a good movie, but it’s so formulaic in its plot structure and forceful in its thematic elements that the movie itself comes off in a pretentious, self-important way. Furthermore, Lion glosses over any overly intense issues, as to avoid making the audience too uncomfortable. I think the most blaring example of this trend is when at a dinner with Saroo, Lucy, and their parents, Mantosh (Saroo’s emotionally unstable brother) begins hitting himself after Saroo makes him upset. Seconds later, Mantosh is quickly escorted away from the dinner table and off screen by their father. I thought the film took a similar approach with the issue of child sex trafficking, where Saroo only catches a glimpse of the true danger, and dodges each possible run-in. Although, who am I to say that’s not how the events actually happened in real life.
Lion is by no means a bad film. However, I would never watch it again and I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience. Its constant injection of cheesy, overly emotional situations as well as its overstated sense of self-magnitude drove it into the ground for me. That, and the laughable climax of the film wherein we cut between Dev Patel’s face and the computer screen as he dramatically scrolls through Google Maps. Overall, this film was exactly what I expected it to be when I entered the theater. When the end credits began and Sia’s Never Give Up blared over real-life clips of Saroo, my eyes almost rolled out of their sockets.