It starts with a cigarette: In a strip-mall parking lot, a cluster of seventh-graders dare a classmate, eleven-year-old Tommie (Oona Laurence), to bum one from the sad-looking smoker in a suit (Ross Partridge). Most adults would tell Tommie -- uncomfortably dressed in high heels and short shorts -- to beat it, but this man decides to play "a little trick" to "scare" Tommie's friends. He wrangles her into his Tahoe and drives off to simulate a kidnapping.
So begins Partridge's Lamb, an uneasy and intermittently revealing adaptation of Bonnie Nadzam's 2011 novel, which drew inevitable comparisons to Lolita for its depiction of an age-inappropriate male-female relationship melded to the power of the open road. Reeling from a broken marriage and his father's death, and sensing neglect in Tommie's home life (Scoot McNairy is glimpsed as the girl's couch-confined father figure), the 47-year-old David Lamb proposes to the girl a secretive trip to his cabin in the Rockies.
In adapting, directing, and starring in this provocative material, Partridge has set a daunting emotional task for himself, particularly once David's office flame (Jess Weixler) materializes unannounced, foregrounding the scenario's sexual dimensions. This makes Partridge's decision to lens the movie in restrained two-shots daring: The serenity involved in watching Laurence and Partridge share the frame while squatting on curbs or sitting on separate beds is difficult to square with a morally unacceptable relationship whose parameters only grow more dangerous.