Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Secondhand Lions (2003)

For the most part, the focus of American television shows and motion pictures in the 20th and early 21st Centuries has been on the nuclear family, a couple and their children.  Notable exceptions have been the TV shows The Beverly Hillbillies and The Addams Family, television shows that featured extended families living under one roof. While American television shows and movies usually centre on the nuclear family rather than the extended family, there can be no doubt that the extended family has continued to be important for many Americans. This is perhaps much of the reason the movie Secondhand Lions (2003) resonates for so many.

Secondhand Lions centres on teenager Walter Caldwell (Haley Joel Osment), whose mother leaves him to spend the summer with his eccentric, reclusive great-uncles Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Sir Michael Caine), who live in the rural Texas. Walter is not particularly happy to be there and his great-uncles aren't particularly happy to have him there, but the three eventually form a strong bond. An important part of the movie are the tales Garth tells Walter of his and Hub's past adventures. Exaggerated, obviously influenced by classic adventure films, and sometimes politically incorrect, Garth's tales of their adventures apparently have some truth to them. Also important to the plot is a lioness that Hub and Garth had bought for target practice, only to wind up making her a pet (despite their crusty exteriors, the two great-uncles were ultimately soft-hearted).

Secondhand Lions was written and directed by Tim McCanlies. After having worked for Disney for a time, Mr. McCanlies established himself as a script doctor and screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay for North Shore (1987) and experienced his big breakthrough with the screenplay for the classic animated film The Iron Giant (1999). He had actually written the screenplay for Secondhand Lions in the early Nineties, but would only sell it if he was also allowed to direct the film. In the meantime he directed the low-budget comedy-drama Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 (1998) to prove he could direct. Finally, years after having originally written the screenplay, Tim McCanlies persuaded New Line Cinema to let him direct Secondhand Lions.

During the long journey the screenplay Secondhand Lions took to the screen, various actors were considered for the roles of Hub and Garth: Paul Newman and Robert Redford; Jack Lemmon and Walter Mathau; and even Tommy Lee Jones. When Haley Joel Osment was signed to the project, not only did not know which studio would produce Secondhand Lions, but he did not even know who his co-stars would be. Because Haley Joel Osment was going through puberty at the time, Secondhand Lions was shot in sequence.

In Secondhand Lions, Walter grows up to be a cartoonist. To provide Walter's cartoons Tim McCanlies turned to Berkeley Breathed, most famous as the creator of Bloom County. Mr. Breathed created a comic strip called Walter and Jasmine for the film, artwork from which is also shown during the closing credits.

Secondhand Lions received generally positive reviews upon its release. While it did modestly at the box office, it has since become something of a cult film. It is particularly popular with fans of family movies.

Much of the success of Secondhand Lions rests with its three leads. Robert Duvall and Sir Michael Caine give solid performances as Hub and Garth. Indeed, Mr. Caine's American accent is entirely convincing. Haley Joel Osment gives a sensitive performance as the boy who grows to love his two eccentric uncles. Mr. McCanlies's screenplay blends comedy and drama seamlessly. Set in 1962, Secondhand Lions captures the era quite well. Ultimately, Secondhand Lions is a touching coming of age movie with just enough schmaltz to be pleasing and plenty of fun. 


Realweegiemidget Reviews said...

This does sound a fabulous cast and lovely they went for a new double act as the uncles. It wouldn't have been the same with the others somehow. I did love seeing Haley in AI, so as a fan of his performance there and an interest now for Caine and his American accent I'm thanking you for bringing this film to the blogathon.

Caftan Woman said...

I keep putting this on the "check it out" list, but then it gets lost in the shuffle. I enjoyed your review and it should keep the movie in my mind.

John L. Harmon said...

A very nice review!
I've only seen secondhand Lions once and I remember it not clicking with me. Maybe I need to give it a second chance now that I'm older and allegedly wiser.

Acting Funny said...

Nice review! I have to admit I have not gotten around to seeing this one, but I've added it to my queue now for sure. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

J-Dub said...

Michael Caine and Robert Duvall?! Count me in!

MichaelWDenney said...

I'm not familiar with this movie. Interesting to learn of Berkeley Breathed's involvement. I also learned that The Iron Giant was not solely written for the screen by Brad Bird. Thanks for being so informative!

Silver Screenings said...

I'm another one who saw this film some years ago, and I felt kind of "meh" about it. But now that I've read your review & re-watched the trailer, I think I should give it another go.

Carol said...

Awesome! Will have to watch this one!

Carol, The Old Hollywood Garden