Ross Patridge's Lamb is a sure conversation starter 

click to enlarge RGB tiff image by MetisIP
  • RGB tiff image by MetisIP

There are few taboos in our culture more uncomfortable than the idea of a predatory man with his sights on a young girl.

Any violator of this standard is usually seen as absolutely evil and not worthy of society.

In Lamb, which premiered at South by Southwest and is currently screening at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, 2501 W. Memorial Road, audiences are pushed out of their comfort zones and forced to consider the issue. Certainly these types of offenses should be protected against, but in some cases, the relationship between abductor and abductee, deceitful or not, is more complicated than we are comfortable believing.

Lamb is the screen adaptation of Bonnie Nadzam’s novel of the same name. The film version was written and directed by Ross Partridge, who also plays the lead role.

The story follows David Lamb, a man in his mid-40s, left hopelessly lonely and emotionally lost following a recent separation from his wife and the death of his father. Sure, he has a college-aged girlfriend, Linny (Jess Weixler), but David never seems to feel quite right about it. Something in him remains unfulfilled.

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The answer to his emptiness — or what David perceives to be the answer — appears to him out of the blue. A group of preteen girls spot him out in public one day and dare the smallest in their clique to ask him for a cigarette. The girl, Tommie (Oona Laurence), is scantily and raggedly dressed for her age.

He gives Tommie a false name and takes immediate interest in her.

To get back at her friends for making fun of her, David feigns a kidnapping, albeit forcefully, to scare them. He then drives Tommie back to her uncaring parents.

This is not the last time the two see each other. Their relationship grows tighter even as it becomes proportionately more awkward. It’s clear Tommie develops some kind of crush on her midlife crisis-having friend, but those watching Lamb spend much of the film’s runtime agonizing over the true nature of David’s intentions.

Things get exponentially more complicated as David takes his new friend out for a weekslong trip to his father’s cabin in the mountains. He keeps the trip and the entire existence of the two’s relationship a secret from everyone, including Tommie’s parents and his girlfriend.

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Tommie wavers between various levels of consent regarding the trip, but it should be noted that she seems to generally enjoy the journey and genuinely care for David. While clearly crossing a line, his actions are never unequivocally abusive, but they could be interpreted as “grooming” in nature. For much of the film, his approach is fatherly. He gives advice, tells stories, makes jokes. He takes great care before the trip to make sure that she wants to go with him.

As caring as he might be, however, David is still more or less a stranger with a defenseless child. Indeed, the character is as conflicted and confused about his motives as those watching.

Both actors play their roles well, particularly Laurence, who must have been aware of the weight of such a relationship in preparing for her role. As the mastermind behind the film, Partridge finds a way to balance his roles to perfection.

If nothing else, Lamb is a fantastic conversation starter. You won’t want to see it alone.

Print headline: Lost Lamb, Ross Partridge has full control of the reins in this uncomfortable but captivating film.

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