Naturally everyone in Tasmania went to see this movie about the Indian orphan boy who becomes separated from his dirt-poor illiterate rural family and ends up adopted by a nice Tasmanian couple and many years later finds his birth village and his poor old mother with the help of Google Earth.
But despite the powerful identification factor – Tasmania in top global movie! – the best part is the first half, which details the terrifying experience of 5-year-old Saroo after he’s separated from his older brother at a railway station and winds up on a train that takes him to faraway Calcutta where he can’t speak the language and can’t tell even well-meaning people his mother’s name or where she lives. I suspect we can only tolerate watching the little boy endure such horrors – starvation, the threats of violence and sexual abuse – because we know there’s a happy ending, with the added emotional payoff for us Tasmanians that his rescuers are….. nice Tasmanians!
Saroo Brierley has been quoted as saying that he found the movie basically true to his real-life story, which means that Sue and John Brierley are indeed good and loving people. They run a small hardware business in Hobart and you’d be surprised how many local folks know them personally. Especially since the movie came out.
I suspect though that the filmmakers have exaggerated certain episodes in the second half of the story for dramatic effect, such as when Saroo becomes all angsty and moody and says to his girlfriend ‘I can’t do this any more’. Can’t do what any more? The fact is, he’s decided to drop everything for the time being and concentrate on tracking down his birth family, but his girlfriend is sympathetic and they’re not talking about ending their relationship. But it seems it’s become mandatory in all cinematic human dramas these days that at some point a troubled character has to say ‘I can’t do this any more!’ And sweep things off a desk. Or a wall, which happens here, regrettably.
But because it’s a true story it’s not wall-to-wall cliche, and David Wenham and Nicole Kidman both do a reasonable job of looking like ordinary Australian suburbanites. Our Nic even allows the camera to catch her at the occasional angle where her neck looks like it could be that of a woman in her fifties. The botoxed forehead might have struck a jarring note, but they give Nic a fringe to cover that.A couple of other infelicities: Saroo did indeed have a girlfriend at that stage of his life, but why was she played by an American (Rooney Mara)?
I also found it unlikely that Saroo wouldn’t have answered the door to dear old Dad when he calls to say Mum’s worried and how are you getting on? I mean, he purports to conceal his quest so as not to hurt his adoptive parents, but not to speak to them would have been even crueller. Bet that didn’t happen!
The two Indian actors are the stars of this show. Sunny Parwah, who plays 5-year-old Saroo, is heartbreakingly good as the little boy lost. Darkly handsome and charismatic Dev Patel is equally good as the young man in search of his lost family.
What’s not to love? An amazing true sad story with a happy ending. Did it pass the tear test? You betcha. I started to tear up during a scene where Sue explains to Saroo why she and her husband decided to adopt rather than have children of their own, and was rarely without a tissue in hand thereafter. Needless to say, the last ten to fifteen minutes were a waterworks extravaganza. Four stars from me.