Lawrence Toppman

‘Lamb’ leads down unforeseen paths

Tommie (Oona Laurence) takes a strange journey into the Wyoming countryside in “Lamb.”
Tommie (Oona Laurence) takes a strange journey into the Wyoming countryside in “Lamb.” Courtesy of The Orchard

The first question about “Lamb” is whether the title character is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

We know he’s a businessman in his 40s who rides from Denver to a remote Wyoming cabin on a two-week vacation with an 11-year-girl. He turns out not to be a pederast or predator, and he never does anything sexual to young Tommie. But at the end of this enigmatic, gripping drama, we’re still trying to figure out what has passed through the strange mind of David Lamb.

Ross Partridge directed, wrote the screenplay (from a novel by Bonnie Nadzam) and delivers the strong central performance. He keeps us on edge in all three capacities, as we try to figure out what the stakes may be for Lamb. He has just lost an indifferent father, a wife who has put him out of their home, and most of his interest in a co-worker named Linny (Jess Weixler), who satisfies him sexually but apparently in no other way.

Lamb meets Tommie (Oona Laurence, also very good) when she bums a cigarette from him outside a convenient store. He lets her smoke it, wheezing uncomfortably, until the point has been made: She should quit. Then he tosses her into his car, driving her home and warning her against talking to strange men, until that point has been made: She should quit.

But he doesn’t quit. He seeks her out, taking her on brief outings and listening to her dreams of escaping the ash-gray city. So he proposes a trip to his family’s cabin, with no permission sought from her inattentive mother or mom’s nagging boyfriend. “To a lot of people, this would look like a kidnapping,” he tells Tommie, suggesting she tell her mom she ran away after they return to Denver. It isn’t a kidnapping – but what is it?

Tommie mainly wants a father substitute. But what does he want? A relationship with someone who makes no adult demands? An altruistic opportunity to give a poor city kid a break, taking her to a cleaner part of America and providing a sense of the world beyond her dusty horizon? A chance to bond, sibling-style – however odd that may be – with a girl who’s the age of the younger brother who disappeared forever long ago?

The movie holds no clear answers. Every time you think you know where it’s going, it veers. And at the end, I’m pretty sure even Tommie and Lamb – who alternately thinks he’s enriching her life or ruining it – don’t quite know what they’ve been through. But the journey seems to have been worthwhile for them and us.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Lamb’

Cast: Ross Partridge, Oona Laurence.

Writer-Director: Ross Partridge.

Length: 96 minutes.

Rating: Unrated (language, brief sex).

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