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Wayback Wednesday: Secondhand Lions (2003)

A collection of cinema’s most selfish family members.  


With everything that’s going on in the world right now, you can bet your bottom dollar that more than ever, I’ve been watching a ton of movies. Sidenote, I’d like to encourage everyone to practice social distancing and stay home instead of going out. I repeat, stay home as much as possible. Staying home is great! You can have yourself a movie marathon and binge movies that make you smile. Which is how my family and I ended up watching Secondhand Lions (2003), a movie we used to watch all the time, but haven’t seen in years. I’m proud to report that it totally holds up!

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Credit: / New Line Cinema

Written and directed by Tim McCanlies, Secondhand Lions follows 14-year-old Walter Caldwell. Walter is dropped off at the home of his reclusive great-uncles by his irresponsible mother, who wants him to find the vast fortune his uncles have amassed over the years. Though he couldn’t care less about the money, Walter does grow to gain love and admiration for his eccentric uncles.

I remember Secondhand Lions as one of those movies that was ALWAYS on YTV. Which is surprising because I wouldn’t exactly call this a children’s movie. Oh, it’s not like it’s inappropriate for kids, but Secondhand Lions manages to be more mature and have an appeal that extends beyond its young target audience. Sure, it’s light and cute, but it’s also a moving coming-of-age story that shows the value of  being with a family that loves and care for you. Family is a huge theme in Secondhand Lions and it’s interesting to see how Walter gets to experience both its highs and lows. On the one hand, there’s his mother, Mae, who might just be one of the worst moms in movie history. She abandons her child for the summer, drops him at his uncles without their knowledge, lies to her son about going to court reporting school, and then whisks away to Las Vegas where she meets a weasel-y guy who attacks her son! Mae Caldwell is the worst. Somehow though, Kyra Sedgwick brings just enough devious ditziness to the role, that it’s still deliciously daft to watch. For fans of alliteration, that was a whopping four D’s.

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Credit: / New Line Cinema

As Garth and Hub McCann, Michael Caine and Robert Duvall totally deliver. First of all, I’m pretty sure I’ve made it abundantly clear in past reviews, but I fucking love Michael Caine. I love him when he plays a crotchety old man, and I love him when he plays a compassionate father figure. In Secondhand Lions, he gets to play both and we as an audience are lucky to see it. Caine is equal parts dry and witty, and equal parts soft and mushy. All-around, he once again gives a performance that is hilarious and heartwarming to watch.

Caine and Duvall approach their roles with just the right amount of serious acting,  elevating what could have been a simple kid’s movie into a solid and timeless dramedy. Both actors are giving it their all and it’s in their scenes together where the pair really shine. Really, casting Caine as the tender-hearted brother and Duvall as the more rough around the edges brother, is genius. Their chemistry is so on point and I wholeheartedly believe them as brothers who’ve seen it all and been through countless adventures together.

Speaking of adventures, you know what’s really great about Secondhand Lions? That it’s two movies for the price of one. There’s the Walter story set in the present day which is a hoot to watch and full of family bonding goodness, but then there’s also the multiple flashbacks to Garth and Hub’s swashbuckling adventures. The flashbacks to Garth and Hub’s adventures in the Middle East, which also happens to feature Hub’s fairy-tale romance with his true love, Jasmine, feel like an action movie from the 1940s. And I love it! Full of cheesy, cartoony fun and a pure delight, I would gladly watch a spin-off movie solely on Garth and Hub’s youthful exploits. Oooh, or a prequel series! Seriously, Netflix, this is a surefire idea.

As a whole, Secondhand Lions is a fun, happy, good time. Watching it again as an adult brought back such good memories! Starring as Walter, Haley Joel Osment will remind you why he’s one of best child actors in recent memory. Like Macaulay Culkin, nothing he does is annoying or shrill, and his performance always carries just the right amount of emotional weight. He has a natural chemistry with Caine and Duvall and easily meets the level of energy they give to any scene they share. Osment especially excels at playing amazed or innocent, two qualities that only endear you to Walter more. This is a great role for an up-and-coming actor, and Osment absolutely utilized it to the best of his ability.

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Credit: / New Line Cinema

You know, it wasn’t until this viewing that I realized, not a lot actually happens in Secondhand Lions. In the plot set in the present, that is. Of course there’s the farming Walter does with his uncles, the shenanigans they get into, and naturally, the time spent with the ADORABLE lioness, Jasmine, but this is a movie that really thrives on its emotional resonance more than plot. It’s short, sweet, and probably one of the better, more enjoyable, “kid lives with unsuitable adults whom they grow to love,” movies out there. Full of fun, family, adventure, and a staggering amount of evil, greedy, asshole adults, Secondhand Lions is the feel-good movie the world needs right now.

Are you a fan of Secondhand Lions? What are some of your favourite childhood movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!


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