Written and Directed by Ross Partridge.
Starring Ross Partridge, Oona Laurence, Jess Weixler, Tom Bower, Scoot McNairy, and Lindsay Pulsipher.
When a man meets a young girl in a parking lot he attempts to help her avoid a bleak destiny by initiating her into the beauty of the outside world. The journey shakes them in ways neither expects.
Uncomfortable platonic tension and inappropriate awkwardness loom over virtually every scene in Lamb. Some will outright write the movie off based on its subject material alone, but anyone who gives it a chance will find themselves rewarded with what will wind up as one of the most complex and emotional works of the year.
Lamb (adapted from the novel of the same name) could have went wrong from the very moment a depressed and mentally broken 47-year-old man named David is approached by an 11-year-old girl named Tommie in a mall parking lot for a cigarette, but it’s evidently clear that the young girl is also lost existentially. Her supposed friends that dared her to ask for the smoke do nothing when David convinces Tommie to briefly stage a kidnapping as a warning that they shouldn’t be partaking in such nonsense with strangers.
It’s then made aware to the viewer that Tommie’s parents are incredibly inattentive, only expressing acknowledgement to rage at her for coming home late. Keeping in mind that David has just lost his father, has a crumbled marriage, and an affair with a coworker that he’s seemingly somewhat disinterested in, and it becomes understandable why he decides to ask Tommie if they could hang out again.
What develops is a highly paternal reminiscent relationship that leaves you constantly questioning the moral barometer of David. He never elevates the relationship to a sexual level, but there are strong Lolita vibes throughout. Simply put, an onslaught of psychological profiling thoughts whirl around our minds regarding David: Is he fulfilling a void by acting as an illegitimate father? Is he repressing unacceptable feelings of love and lust for an 11-year-old girl (this one is admittedly most unlikely)? What brought David to this state of mind and loneliness?
Lamb works as functional drama because the film completely stays away from judging David or making him out to be an unlikable monster. The bond that these two characters share is undoubtedly creepy, but the one thing rising above all else is that they both care about each other, whether it be as friends or something deeper. No one on either side does anything wrong, although David does occasionally use wisdom and life experience to his advantage at convincing Tommie to continue keeping him company, even as the two escape all of their troubles for a week via brief vacation at David’s father’s old countryside cabin (featuring some stunning cinematography capturing beautiful green pastures, blue skies, and adorable horses). David continues to manipulate her when she feels homesick, but it’s never done explicitly harmful. There is a strong sense that he truly would take Tommie back home if she persisted.
Of course, to make something this taboo truly kick-off, two strong central performances are required. It goes without saying that Ross Partridge succeeds at portraying this emotionally crippled man who, while doing questionable things, is still an empathetic, good person (he’s also performing triple duty as the writer/director). The real powerhouse turn however comes from Oona Laurence (an extremely talented young actress already in possession of a Tony award, that has recently been standing out on the silver screen with smaller roles in I Smile Back and Southpaw), who can transition from naive innocent child to a strong mature teenager at the snap of a finger. We never truly feel that David is only taking advantage of her to fulfill his own emptiness, because she’s just as alone.
The crowning achievement of Lamb is not only that the relationship feels real and believable, but that it’s actually in some ways good for these people, just as much as it’s building up to inevitable pain and suffering. To say that the ending is heartbreaking would be an understatement. Viewers are left with much to reflect on though, and who knows, maybe multiple viewings will change their opinion on the two characters. Lamb is definitely the type of movie that lingers in your mind long after having seen it, as you continue to contemplate the choices and decisions our duo make, along with a broad idea of morality.
Lamb‘s only real issue is that it can drag on for a bit, although it’s most likely intentional to successfully handle this delicate content without entering truly offensive and irredeemable territory. Still, it would have been nice to see more scenes with Tommie’s disinterested parents, and a more closer look at why David entered an affair effectively killing a marriage he for some reason wasn’t enjoying. There’s a supporting cast with a surprising amount of depth, except they largely feel wasted and placed into one moment to push the narrative along.
Despite that, Lamb is a gripping, uncomfortable, powerful portrait of platonic love that features a pair of excellent performances. Hopefully Oona Laurence continues to take on intriguing roles that unequivocally challenge the capabilities of any actor, let alone a teenager; she deserve success, awards, and more. Going one step further, she’s one of the brightest young actresses working today.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★