'Lamb': Film Review

Nathan M. Miller
Fine performances bring an intriguing complexity to this provocative tale.

Ross Partridge stars in his screen adaptation of a novel about the disturbing friendship that develops between a middle-aged man and an 11-year-old girl.

Actor Ross Partridge has created an auspicious directing-screenwriting-starring vehicle for himself with his adaptation of Bonnie Nadzam's novel about the friendship that develops between a 47-year-old man at the end of his rope and the 11-year-old girl he takes under his wing. Maintaining a steady tension in its slow-burning depiction of a situation that threatens to veer into truly disturbing territory, Lamb is a provocative drama that should stir much debate upon its theatrical release. The film recently received its world premiere at SXSW.

Partridge plays the central role of David Lamb — the title, of course, could just as easily refer to the young girl he befriends — who's still reeling from the recent death of his father and the imminent demise of his marriage. One day while sitting reflectively in a Chicago parking lot, he's approached by the Lolita-like Tommie (Oona Laurence), who says that she's been solicited by some older friends to bum a cigarette. The intrigued Lamb gives her one, which she awkwardly attempts to smoke.

He then makes the rather unusual suggestion that she get in his car in a pretended kidnapping to teach a lesson to her friends. Not getting the desired reaction, he instead takes her home, where it quickly becomes obvious that her oblivious parents don't exactly keep a close eye on her.

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The two begin spending time together, with Lamb even taking her to his hotel room. Reassuring her that she can leave at any time, he tells her that there's an "open-door policy."

The relationship is not sexual, but when he invites her to travel with him to his remote mountain cabin it has ominous implications. He tells a local figure that she's his niece by marriage, and justifies his actions to himself with the idea that he's exposing her to the glories of nature.

And things go swimmingly for a while, until the unexpected arrival of Linny (Jess Weixler), a much younger co-worker with whom he's having a long-running affair, derails the idyllic vacation. Hiding Tommie in one of the cabin's small, detritus-filled rooms — he keeps Linny out by informing her that it's haunted by the ghost of a young girl — Lamb finds his already precarious situation becoming even more complicated, especially after Tommie spies he and Linny having sex.

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The situations and lead characterizations are sufficiently ambiguous to keep viewers in a steady state of unease, with Lamb quickly revealing himself to be a habitual liar and Tommie displaying a precocious maturity that indicates she's all too aware of the ramifications of their relationship.

"Maybe this is the last time we should hang out for a while," Lamb tells her at one point, to which she replies, "Why, because it's weird?"

Partridge manages the difficult feat of making his character both repellant and oddly sympathetic, while child actress Laurence proves herself a real find with her complex portrayal of the far from innocent but inherently childlike Tommie.

Although the film will be clearly difficult to market in this hypersensitive era — if anything, society has become more prudish since the days of Baby Doll and Lolita — Lamb proves itself a deeply intriguing psychological drama that should inspire much spirited debate. Let the controversy begin.

Production: El Rancho Road LLC
Cast: Ross Partridge, Oona Laurence, Jess Weixler, Tom Bower, Ron Burkhardt, Jennifer Lafleur, Scott McNairy, Joel Murray, Lindsay Pulsipher
Director-Screenwriter: Ross Partridge
Producers: Mel Eslyn, Taylor Williams
Executive producers: Ross Partridge, William Ruch
Director of photography: Nathan M. Miller
Production designer: Lanie Faith Marie Overton
Editor: Chris Donlon
Costume designer: Diaz
Composer: Daniel Belardinelli
Casting: Allison Estrin

No rating, 96 min.

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