Find out where the money is. Get into your uncles’ will. These are the instructions given to Walter (Haley Joel Osment) by his flaky mom (Kyra Sedgewick) when Walter is deposited at his uncles’ in Secondhand Lions, a feel-good film aimed at the demographic that already saw Seabiscuit and is waiting for Mona Lisa Smile. The money she’s talking about is a supposed fortune harbored by uncles Garth (Michael Caine) and Hub (Robert Duvall), who recently returned after disappearing in France 40 years before.
Walter spends the majority of his time dodging insults from fortune-seeking relatives, growing accustomed to his uncles’ eccentricities, and bringing his uncles’ characters to the forefront. The story here isn’t in the money, or Walter, but in the elderly pair: where they were, what happened to them there and why they’re discontent despite the security and comfort they have. The real story here is that of Hub, a gruff old-timer with a soft spot, and Garth, his good-natured, common sense brother.
The characters succeed as adventurers in their golden years, but are unable to find a purpose in gardening and rocking chairs. One of the best bits in this movie is the brothers’ adventurous backstory, narrated by Garth and vividly shot with a style and humor reminiscent of The Princess Bride.
The stark contrast between these vibrant, action-packed sequences and the lazy shots of their Texas home serve to provide further contrast between the life they left behind and the one to which they’re trying to adapt.
Hub epitomizes this challenge, the titular lion serving as a metaphor for his character. With a lion’s subdued ferocity, the present-day Hub takes on four teens in a brawl and lays down the law for Walter’s abusive stepfather-to-be, all the while coming to terms with his newly, peril-free life.
Caine and Duvall tackle a script with subpar dialogue to create stirring performances. While the seasoned actors shine in this movie, Osment flounders. A veteran of heart-warmers like Forrest Gump and Pay It Forward, a pubescent Osment is here only to deliver hackneyed dialogue and get teary-eyed.
While this technique has worked in the past, his weepy demeanor combined with his cracking voice is more humorous than pitiable; Osment needs to grow past roles like this. The blame for the blandness of his character doesn’t fall entirely on Osment, though Walter also suffers in the script from plot holes and clichÃ©s.
While a good deal of time is spent on Hub’s and Garth’s pasts, Walter’s is mentioned as an afterthought.
Questions such as what Walter’s mother had done to him in the past are passed over, leaving Walter a very flat character.
Despite these problems, Secondhand Lions is, at it’s heart, a good-natured, touching drama. It’s the kind that parents, grandparents and children will all enjoy. Life will look a little brighter in its afterglow.