Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight, R)

film_slumdog_sm.jpgSlumdog Millionaire is a watered down City of God knockoff that is wrapped around a gimmick.

 

 

 

 

 

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I’ve long contended that the best way to see a movie is with as little knowledge of that movie as possible—for example, once I come to the decision that I plan on seeing a given movie, I do everything I can to not learn anything new about the movie until I actually see it. In the case of the new Danny Boyle film, Slumdog Millionaire, I had heard, and continue to hear, that it is absolutely amazing, and the cacophony of people saying this is deafening and unavoidable. A day or two before I saw it, the National Board of Review picked it as the single best movie of the year, and that isn’t to mention all of the people I know who saw it at SLIFF and loved it (the animated shorts program played opposite it at the festival, so I gave that priority).

I just saw it after hearing all of this, and I didn’t like it. At all. But is it the movie’s fault, or am I being reactionary after hearing over and over how great it is? Of course there’s no guarantee that you will experience the same feelings, but I’m pretty sure I would have disliked it even had I seen it before all of the hype. Although Trainspotting is quite literally one of my favorite films ever (top ten, easy), I haven’t really liked anything else that Danny Boyle has ever done, including the ones that everyone else likes (Shallow Grave and 28 Days Later among them). Slumdog Millionaire is a watered down City of God knockoff that is wrapped around a gimmick, which is bad enough, but the gimmick is centered on a TV show that I always despised (Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?—the mentally handicapped Jeopardy!), which makes it borderline intolerable. And what a bad idea for a plot! Eighteen-year-old nobody Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) wins it all on Millionaire, and the film recounts the unusual circumstances under which he learned the answer to each question, which can handily be answered by recounting key episodes in his young life. It’s essentially a lazy way of telling a clichéd story, with a commercial for shitty TV tacked onto it.

There are a few things that I liked about the film, but they are all pretty minor. Some of the plot takes place in India with the characters speaking Hindi, and the subtitles in these sequences are really dynamic: easy to read, placed irregularly on the screen; all in all much more exciting in and of themselves as the standard way of doing subtitles. Also, I’m glad to see that after all of these years, Boyle hasn’t broken the habit of having his main character dive into a poop-filled toilet within the first reel of the film. Unfortunately, these two things were the only ones I particularly liked, which is a pretty bad sign for a two-hour-long film.

After thinking about it for a while and trying to determine if I’m being fair to the movie or not, I have come to the conclusion that if I had seen this before everyone else and not known anything about it going in, I still would have hated it, and when it came out and everyone loved it, I would have been confused and wondered if I missed something, gone back and seen it again, and hated it still. So at least this way I saved myself that torturous second viewing. | Pete Timmermann

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