Tuesday, January 5, 2016

LAMB: Ross Partridge adapts, directs and stars in this doozy about trust and betrayal

Tragedy hangs over the new movie, LAMB, like a beautifully wafting shroud. One of its two stars, Ross Partridge, directed the film, as well as adapted it (from the novel by Bonnie Nadzam), and he has come up with something rather extraordinary: a kind of character study about characters who've gone missing -- in at least a couple of senses of that word. Mr. Partridge, shown on poster, right, and below, plays a fellow who appears to have no character. He's a kind of semi-benign sociopath who lies constantly: to his wife, boss, mistress and then, maybe to the other important character in the film, a young girl he meets and gloms onto, who, in the course of the movie, goes missing herself.

Or is this guy, called both David and Gary as the movie wends its ways along, really something else?  Maybe just a poor, addled, lonely, middle-aged man looking for some genuine connection. And what, finally, has he wrought -- does he wreak -- by movie's end upon that young girl, called both Tommie and Emily?  Has he helped or harmed her? The mystery, as well as much of the ferocity, of Lamb is that you will find potent arguments on both sides of these questions. Whatever your answer, you'll be forced to consider this unusual situation from a new perspective.

While Mr. Partridge excels in all three roles -- as adaptor, director and actor -- the real find is the young actress, Oona Laurence (above), who plays Tommie/Emily. Ms Laurence possesses a level of maturity and focus that even most adult actors never achieve. (She reminds us, in this regard, of the younger Saoirse Ronan.) The actress has the ability to look and act both her own age and that of a much older, wiser person -- without ever losing her grasp on the reality of the situation at hand. Her performance here also avoids, thank god, any hint of the "cute."

How these two characters meet and bond is of great help to the film's reality quotient. What happens then, while coming up against our current understanding of pedophilia and child abuse. turns the film into a kind of open-ended morality play, with plenty of ammunition provided for either side of the argument.

Lamb is mostly a two-hander, with the only other major role essayed by the fine Jess Weixler, who plays the mistress of David/Gary and whose character is intelligent enough to finally provide us a small "fix" on this guy's modus operandi. At one point she tells him, "You can't go around making the whole world angry, just so you'll know where you stand."

From its initial not-so-cute meet, the movie morphs into a kind of road trip and from there into an increasingly fraught situation in which love and need jockey for position with fear and pain. Through it all, Ms Laurence has us in thrall, while Mr. Partridge keeps us guessing -- and hoping.

Similar in certain ways to another odd-and-finite-relationship movie -- last year's Like Sunday Like Rain -- this pairing seems as wrong and unhelpful as the earlier film's twosome was beneficial and valuable. But that's my "take" on things. Partridge's film is definitely worth seeing, arguing over, and finally coming to your own conclusion about what our guy has done to or for our girl.

Distributed by The Orchard and running a just-about-perfect length at 97 minutes, Lamb opens this Friday, January 8, in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 and in New York City at the Cinema Village.

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