Saturday, December 6, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (2008, Danny Boyle)

The key to the enduring success of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? property is its format. To begin with, it boils down the game show to its essence- one questioner, one answerer- then injects heaping helpings of built-in drama into the proceedings- the double-or-nothing scoring system, the multiple-choice questions (which puts contestants, somewhat unwisely, at ease), the lifelines, and the multi-step processes required to answer the question, which draws out the suspense almost to the breaking point. Which I suppose is a roundabout way of saying that the show is compulsively watchable, and hardly needs any more drama injected into it. Yet somehow, the game-show sequences are probably the most Earthbound parts of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, a film that’s been racking up accolades on the festival circuit and now seems primed to take home beaucoup arthouse bucks and Oscar nominations. I wish I could say the melodrama that pervades Slumdog to its very bones was a good thing- being a fan of melodrama as I am- but alas, the whole thing ends up coming off as contrived through and through. To begin with, there’s the premise of the movie- that the uneducated title character has somehow gleaned all the necessary answers through his life’s experiences. While this is true to a certain extent for most game-show contestants, it feels entirely too dramatically convenient here, especially when the film milks this for drama rather than absurdist comedy like the episode of Cheers where Cliff was a contestant on Jeopardy! To wit- nearly every answer isn’t simply from the protagonist’s life, but from a significant moment in his life. Of course, the film more or less comes out and says that his winning on the show (SPOILER!) was “destiny”, so we’re pretty squarely in fantasy territory here. Yet that hardly excuses the movie’s many spurious leaps in logic, not the least of which is some highly unprofessional behavior on the part of the host. Then there’s the final question on the show, which is not only jaw-droppingly predictable from about five minutes into the movie, but also far, FAR too easy to make the cut as a “million dollar” question. I hate to say it, but I get the impression that Slumdog Millionaire wouldn’t be getting nearly the buzz that it has so far had it been set in, say, New York City- it’s the exoticism of India that really seems to smooth over the film’s many rough spots in the minds of rapturous critics and audiences (sorry, Jason). As for me, I ain’t buying- no matter where it’s set, Slumdog Millionaire is diverting in the moment but pretty shameless on balance, hardly worthy of the love it’s getting. Rating: 4 out of 10.

1 comment:

Jason_alley2 said...

Haha, hey, I admit that it leaves itself open to all kinds of scrutiny, especially if you wanna look at logic and all those kinds of things. I also have to agree with what you said about how funny it is that all the answers to the show's questions appear chronologically in his life.

But...I had a hell of a lot of fun. I laughed, I was moved, I was dazzled by the non-stop energy and color and life of it all, I thought the game show stuff was a nifty, unusual framing device (however illogical), I liked how much Danny Boyle's heart was on his sleeve. I liked hearing M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes" blasting on the theatre speakers, entirely unexpectedly but somehow appropriately. I liked that it's an unabashed "Oliver Twist" fable that's not quite like any other I've ever seen.

Yeah, it's illogical and I'm sure the Indian aspect IS what makes it more interesting and "exotic", but it gave me such an emotional cinematic rush that it's one of those times I choose not to question that stuff. It sent me out of the theatre feeling really GOOD, and at the same time I thought it was a competent work of fantasy by a great director.

That's my defense and I'm stickin' to it!