In keeping with my Washington’s Birthday tradition, I went with my wife to see a movie. I chose Slumdog Millionaire to watch with her because I knew in advance that it would more…intense than she might have thought. As I was discussing on Twitter this week, it was rated R for a reason.
How on earth does a poor young man fare so well on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”? He must be cheating! But how? The police use “extraordinary” means to find out, only to discover that there’s an explanation for it all, based on an extremely difficult childhood.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly said: “Slumdog Millionaire is nothing if not an enjoyably far-fetched piece of rags-to-riches wish fulfillment. It’s like the Bollywood version of a Capra fable sprayed with colorful drops of dark-side-of-the-Third-World squalor.” Well, maybe. I know the producers didn’t bill it as such, but as a friend of mine put it, “it took a long time for this ‘feel good’ movie to feel good.”
I think part of the problem was that it took three actors each to play the three main characters and I didn’t always buy the transition from one to the next. One either buys into the sheer level of coincidence or one does not. I guess I never fully engaged enough to buy in. So the “happy ending” seemed less joyous than it should have been; I didn’t feel the payoff. Whether this is a function of the low-key acting styles, especially of Dev Patel, the last lead male, or what, I’m not sure.
This is not that I did not enjoy elements of it. The outhouse scene was memorable. Having had to go to the bathroom while taping a television quiz show, albeit in the United States, I was intrigued by another particular scene. Frankly, I was a bit of a sucker for that original run of Millionaire hosted by Regis Philbin, so I enjoyed the game section on that level. The smelling of a $100 bill will stay with me. The stuff at the Taj Mahal, though, I swear I’ve seen before in some movie or TV show.
My friend David savaged the movie, noting that it was not even the best film made in India last year. He may very well be right, but for the Hollywood community, it’s irrelevant. Hollywood is not savvy to Bollywood cinema.
Ultimately, when I see a movie, I’m ready and willing to suspend my belief that it’s just cimnema and surrender to it; just didn’t happen for me. I didn’t hate the film, and I’m not unhappy that I saw it, but I can’t imagine wanting to see it again.
Remembering Gene Siskel by Roger Ebert. Recommended highly.