Lion is a "based on a true story" film about Saroo, a young boy in India who is separated from his family without knowing the name of where he lives, or even his own surname, and subsequently adopted for a life in Australia. As he grows up, though he seems to be content, new experiences and people in university bring back memories of his lost life and childhood, and he takes to Google Earth with memories from two decades prior, in the hopes of retracing his steps to find his childhood home and, with it, his family.
Before seeing Lion, I knew little of the story, other than the basic plot and cast, and specifically that the boy playing young Saroo was adorbz. Though my expectations were not particularly high, I was looking forward to seeing how the story played out, and anticipated some tears on my part. These tears cannot always be taken as endorsement, however, as I am a renowned crier, having recently burst into tears at the trailer for the live action Beauty & the Beast (which, in my opinion, does not look remotely appealing).
I was very happy for my expectations to be exceeded, and to experience an unexpectedly intimate and quiet film. With such a big story, set in big places, it would be very easy to push it through the Hollywood machine to churn out a film with as many sharp highs and lows as possible but instead, this extraordinary story feels very understated and personal. We spend the first half of the film with young Saroo (Sunny Pawar), his brother Guddu, and his family. As much as I grew to love them, it did not feel difficult to let go of young Saroo and meet him as an adult (Dev Patel) as the goodwill I had for Saroo travelled with him through the ages.
One of the main strengths of the film, other than the pitch perfect tone, was Dev Patel's performance as adult Saroo. Not being overly familiar with his work, and more so his appearances on TV chat shows, I was concerned that I would be constantly reminded of the actor, and not the character. Even though his Aussie accent isn't perfect, I found his portrayal of Saroo completely believable and altogether 3D as a character. He was an open, warm, and unselfconscious Aussie who we slowly realise feels quite at odds with his outward appearance. As he allows himself to remember his childhood in India, and begins to search for his family, he is pained but never once feels angsty or tortured, even as he isolates himself from his friends and loved ones. How the story is told cinematically (specifically the way Saroo's past and present interact with each other) is another great strength, and again it is Patel's performance which helps to keep things from being saccharine and overdone.
Though it doesn’t feel like an emotionally manipulating Hollywood story, this isn't to say that I didn't cry throughout the film - in fact, I believe the American students to my left and the young couple to my right may have believed me to have some personal stake in the outcome of the film, there were so many tears shed! In saying that, I see this as another testament to the unassuming feel of the film, as I didn't feel at any point that I was supposed to cry, and rather that the whole film was quietly moving as we go on an emotional journey with the characters.
As I've said, I'm a bit behind in my cinema going and it looks like Lion might be leaving cinemas quite soon, so I would encourage you to check your local listings and catch it before it goes. It's (another) PG film which doesn't feel cut or watered down, and deals with an extraordinary story while somehow making it feel very personal and, at times, relatable. The film and story is also a great example of why it's never appropriate to ask someone who doesn't look like you where they're really from, because they may not know the answer.