As a film about finding your father, Eaten by Lions is a mess. In trying to be an instant British Classic, Eaten by Lions is a mess. Yet in this futile journey, the film manages to find something else that works. The mess can’t take away from the core relationship at the heart of the film; the journey of two brothers that keeps the film together even if it has to limp towards the finish line.
An attempt to recapture the charm of independent British classics like East is East, this new comedy from director Jason Wingard boasts a multicultural cast of both up and coming talents and popular comedians like Johnny Vegas. The ensemble is led by two strong performances from Antonio Aakeel as Omar and Jack Carroll as Pete, whose chemistry on screen is the saving grace of the film. On a search for Omar’s real father, these brothers find their relationship tested as they are whisked away to Blackpool of all places. Meeting a series of strange and unique personalities, it is the genuine bond between them that keeps the film going; carrying an otherwise underwhelming script and stopping it from collapsing completely. Carroll even manages to get an impressive number of laughs out of the mainly bland dialogue so it is a shame then that everything else around our two leads falters.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the film is casting rising star Asim Chaudhry as Omar’s estranged father. While he gives a solid comedic performance, Chaudhry lacks range as an actor and the childlike nature of his persona is a clear misstep as it removes what should have been the dramatic conflict of the film. This character just doesn’t work outside of a few laughs and so it removes all weight from the emotional scenes. I must also mention that these scenes felt very abrupt and out of place within the rushed pacing of the films second half. They arrive less due to narrative logic and more to fill some quota necessary to create this kind of indie British comedy. Even if it had succeeded, it’s something that we have all seen many times before. Within this category also falls a very awkward and rushed romantic subplot for Omar that honestly left me baffled. Again, the film simply can’t balance the heart-warming and humorous scenes properly, leaving it more of a cringe-fest than being what they claim is “the feel-good movie of the year.”
In terms of form, the film sometimes attempts to offer a distinct visual style with clear influences from popular British directors like Edgar Wright and Richard Ayoade; both of whom have made their own beloved indie comedies. While this could be an attempt at homage, it feels more like a struggle for Eaten by Lions to find its own identity and its own definitive aesthetic. Wingard has taken bits and pieces from much better films and cobbled them together to create his own beast yet in this case the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.
Chewed up and spat out on screen, Eaten by Lions is a comedy with a great pairing at its core and does provide some light entertainment. However, in its attempt to become the next British Classic, it loses any distinct personality of its own and ends up offering more cringes than laughs.