With “Lion,” Harvey Weinstein will once again try to claw his way back into the Oscar hunt.
The true-story of Saroo Brierly, who was adopted from India as a boy and later used Google Earth to locate his family, gives the indie distributor perhaps his best chance of awards glory this year. It’s uplifting, humanistic, and unabashedly sentimental, all things that Oscar voters love. In fact, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs was on hand both at the Toronto International Film Festival premiere Saturday night and at its after party at Soho House. There, Weinstein and his right hand man, David Glasser, huddled over a smartphone (perhaps scouring through Twitter reactions?), while revelers sipped champagne and mixed drinks in the club’s baronial setting.
Earlier in the evening, the crowd at the Princess of Wales Theatre had roared as the credits rolled, leaping to their feet for a standing ovation. There were also audible sniffles during the picture’s climax.
Critics were more mixed in their appraisals, suggesting that the picture’s appeal may be more populist. Variety’s Peter Debruge, for instance, argued that the film was too flimsy, writing, “While unique, Saroo’s story is somewhere between the-guy-who-found-a-lottery-scratcher-worth-fifty-bucks and the-farmer-who-prayed-for-rain-and-got-it.”
Others were more generous. IndieWire’s Eric Kohn praised the film’s neo-realist initial sequences where a five-year old Saroo is separated from his family on the streets of Calcutta.
“These scenes could anchor an entire movie on their own even without the 20-year time jump that follows them,” he wrote.
At the party after, the sense was that Nicole Kidman, de-glammed in an ’80s perm as Saroo’s adopted mother, may have the best chance at landing a nomination in the supporting actress category. Dev Patel also impressed playing the adult Saroo as a man haunted by his past. The sense, however, was Patel would be more viable in a supporting, rather than lead, campaign.
In the past, the Weinstein Company has mixed Oscar advocacy with social justice pushes to great effect with the likes of “Philomena” and “The Imitation Game,” both of which earned Best Picture nods while drawing attention to adoption rights and gay rights. “Lion” clearly intends to have a similar impact. The picture concludes with a message about the 80,000 children in India who are lost each year, urging audiences to learn more about what they can do to help.
“I hope it creates a platform for change,” said director Garth Davis during a question and answer session after the film screened. He said he hoped more people would consider adoption. “If you’re in a loving family that’s all that matters,” he said.
Weinstein has a lot riding on the film. The indie impresario has been dogged by murmurs that the Weinstein Company is in financial trouble; rumblings that have grown as the studio has lost a number of key executives. At the same time, he’s signaled that he is more interested in television than the movie business, believing it to be a more stable source of revenues . That strategic shift has robbed recent festival markets of one of its most active buyers.
If Silicon Valley got a vote, “Lion” would be a lock for Best Picture. The film plays like an ode to technology’s power to connect disparate worlds and make us whole. No surprise. Going into Toronto, Davis admitted that Google loved the film.
“It’s a wonderful advert for them,” he said.