Slumdog Millionaire (2008) — Game shows, torture, and romance

“When somebody asks me a question, I tell them the answer.”

Courtney’s rating: I’m supposed to be doing homework, but this seemed far more important…

Courtney’s review: So you all know how I kept talking about The Graduate like it’s the greatest movie of all time? (I’ve still yet to review it – ah, well, such is life.) Well, it should be noted that that was before I saw Slumdog Millionaire.

Okay, that’s not fair. I can’t really say that because I’ve only seen Slumdog once so far, so I don’t know how it holds up to repeat viewings. (The Graduate holds up spectacularly, by the way.) I was actually waiting until I could see it again to review it, but then Kyle beat me to the first review (and pretty much wrote what I wanted to say. But whatever. I’m totally stealing all of his extras. I’m incredibly lazy.) Then the Oscars came and there was this huge sweep and Indian child in Mumbai were dancing and crying and I just got really excited and started yearning to review the movie.

It’s been nearly two months since I saw the movie, but whatever. I just really, really wanted to do this now. Also, I’ve been really busy, the only other movies I’ve seen recently are He’s Just Not That Into You and A Very Brady Sequel (review to come soon,) and I haven’t filled this month’s quota yet. So, here you have it.

If I wasn’t a big Danny Boyle fan, I don’t think I would’ve heard about Slumdog until it won the Golden Globe. I also don’t think I would’ve wanted to see it. But as it is, I am a Boyle fan, I did hear about Slumdog, and I did want to see it. Since October I’ve been bugging people about trying to see it. Of course, I was still in Hungary and the movie had barely been released in the US and the UK, so it didn’t happen for a while. But when I came home in December, I was delighted to hear that it was playing at a theatre in my hometown. It was so worth the wait.

It’s almost hard to describe what Slumdog’s about, only because the premise sounds super corny. (”It’s Forrst Gump set in India!”) And it would be, but Simon Beaufoy and Boyle handled the themes delicately. It’s about destiny, which is normally the lazy screenwriters’ answer to unlikely plot points. I hate “destiny” in movies. But here it just works.

I know I’m sounding like Meredith Viera right now, but there really aren’t many lows in Slumdog. The romance between Jamal and Latika is admittedly pretty flimsy. We know that they love each other, but we don’t really know why. This did bother me for a while, but I think it works out. Halfway through, I just decided that it doesn’t really matter why they love each other for this specific movie. All that matters is that they do. Also, I think that the relationship between Jamal and Salim is the important one. It’s more dynamic, and my sister and I spent the entire ride home discussing it.

The story is pretty cliché, but it’s told with a unique voice and vision in a world we rarely see, which is what movies are supposed to do. And the dance number was kind of weird, but really fun, so it all works out!

What makes this film so good is that you can just tell that everyone who worked on it was in love with it. It really shows through in every aspect, and I think that’s why it had such a major sweep with the Academy.

Slumdog Millionaire has gotten a lot of flak for being really optimistic. If you ask me, it’s all unwarranted. We need happy movies now more than ever, and I’m sorry, but the Dark Knight and Wendy and Lucy just don’t fulfill that need. The happiest movie to win the Best Picture Oscar between 2000 and 2008 was Chicago, a musical about murderers trying to con people into thinking they’re innocent, so I’d say Slumdog’s win was refreshing. And to think that it almost went straight to DVD.

Like most Americans, I love underdog stories. Slumdog Millionaire was the ultimate underdog story, in the universe of the film and in real life as well. I’d suggest it for anyone who likes to smile, or anyone who just loves movies.

Kyle’s rating: My most uplifting, non-pickaxe-through-brains favorite film experience of ’09 thus far!

Kyle’s review: First and foremost Slumdog Millionaire is a love story, full of (im)patient longing and true destiny, so try not to be discouraged by the opening scenes of torture. This is a film that I knew very little about, only saw because my need to find a restroom in Burbank coincided perfectly with an afternoon showing (with enough time thrown in for a big bag of popcorn and a TON of that pump-your-own “butter” topping), and whose most worthy pedigree was that a best friend with similar taste declared it “the best film of 2008” just a few days prior.

Slumdog Millionaire works best, I should think, on that first viewing where perhaps you have only some vague sense of what you’re about to see but aren’t entirely certain how you’re going to get it. Time gets played with, not to the Oscar-baiting extent that I hear goes on in another Oscar-nominated film (which I plan to see next), but you had better be prepared to pay some close attention.

I think what stood out for me as an absolute plus was the dialogue and consequently how major revelations are handled: far from the expected manner of using freeze framing and lengthy close-ups to indicate the ‘important’ visual elements we should be memorizing, there is quite a bit of expectation that the audience is going to be smart to piece some things together on their own. Similarly, the dialogue is written in a very natural way that simultaneously entertains even as it clues us on developments past, present, and future without being utterly blatant. Sort of a sad societal progression that I laud a film that doesn’t treat its viewers as attention-deficient buffoons, but what can I say?

Actually, at this point I should mention something specific about the movie. At its core, it’s a very standard story: kids grow up in hardship, one boy falls in love with one girl and knows from then on that it is destined that they will be together, while the boy’s older brother takes on the leadership role despite probably not being the best candidate for doing so. And then orphan-style madness happens to all of them and it’s bad for a long time, until perseverance and plucky ingenuity resolves everything and everyone gets what they deserve. And, being ostensibly an Indian film, the end credits roll against a Bollywood-style big dance number. Good, happy, uplifting times!

That doesn’t sound particularly appealing or award-winning, does it? Let me sweeten it then: set in India, what most critics refer to as the “real” India, means that all of this standard stuff happens in a setting that is seldom, if ever, used for such a story. There is such decay and squalor that it seems impossible to find beauty within the world these children grow up in, yet from the start Danny Boyle’s worthy direction maintains a view of the proceedings that never allows us to forget that this is some impressively foreign scenery. Whether you’re skeezed out or not, it’s nearly impossible to feel like paying rapt attention to the screen if only to see another piece of our world that you may not have seen before, from a whole new perspective. Absolutely breathtaking depiction of what at times seems like a whole other planet: amazing!

I have friends who get their movies in highly illegal ways. It is difficult to judge them too harshly, if only because of the unspoken benefits for friends of those type of evil-doers. Anyway, to a person, everyone who downloaded Slumdog Millionaire didn’t quite understand the hype. At best, a couple got into the story but remained confused that it could be garnering such awards discussion. “It’s just another love story,” one girl told me.

There is no “see movies in theaters in order to enjoy them fully” moral going on here. But I would classify SM as a tremendous example of a cinematic crowd-pleaser, so at its best you’re going to be part of a crowd watching it. At least your first time. If you hate being seated by the randomly assembled idiots that make up your theater-going community, or you can’t leave your house without fearing for your mental safety, I understand watching it on your own. Otherwise: see it on a busy movie-going night. Like a sports event or inauguration, you’ll tap into not just your own natural energy but also that of your surroundings.

Or perhaps not. I have enough faith in Slumdog Millionaire, in the accomplished way it uses chronological games and a fresh take on a fairly unexplored setting to tell a classic story in a “new” way, that however you watch it you’ll at least appreciate what it adds to the genre of film. Far from being one of those Best Picture contenders that in a few year’s time will be wondered of “How did that get nominated again?” it will endure. People love an underdog, to be sure, and certainly even your most hardened, anti-cleverness and anti-foreign film type will give the film a chance once they hear the central conceit of the plot: young man gets onto the Indian incarnation of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ so he can reach the love-of-his-life. How American is that?

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