Like a puppy dog that's ready to sit on your lap and lick your face clean, "Slumdog Millionaire" is a movie that's come prepared to win you over. And, from what I've gathered, people are ready and willing to let it do just that. Not too long ago, I showed up at work one day to find a group of people standing outside the office (in 40-degree weather!) to get free passes for a recent preview screening of the movie. In all likelihood, this movie will be the sleeper hit of the holiday season.
But, to be quite honest, it's not all that.
I saw the movie several weeks ago, and I'm hard-pressed to remember anything substantial about it. I do remember finding myself kind of underwhelmed (annoyed even) by this inspiring yet unbelievable tale of an under(slum)dog proving nearly an entire culture wrong as he attempts to win the heart of a childhood love -- while incidentally becoming a game-show champion.
Based on Vikas Swarup's novel "Q and A," the "Slumdog" of this movie is Jamal (Dev Patel), a former Mumbai street child who keeps winning money on "Kaun Banega Crorepati," the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?" Unfortunately, before he gets to answer the million-dollar question, he gets tortured and interrogated by police, who suspect he's been cheating.
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So, how does a lowly, scum-of-the-earth punk knows the answers to all these questions? As he explains to the inspector (Irrfan Khan), he's been living a life filled with the answers. (Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle gives the dusty life a tinted sheen; often, it feels like you're watching the movie through a pickle jar full of sun tea.)
Believe it or not, winning a million dollars is the last thing on his mind. He's on the show in the hopes that his soulmate (Freida Pinto), who is now property of a crime lord, is watching and knowing that he's winning the money for her.
"Slumdog" is a fairytale of the highest order -- something "Trainspotting" director Danny Boyle is beginning to traffic in these days -- which explains why other critics flat-out loathe the hype and adoration "Slumdog" has been getting lately. Boyle and screenwriter Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty") relentlessly give us a view of India where positivity and perseverance are considered unattainable constructs, something the hopelessly optimistic Jamal is too, well, optimistic to fall for. Even when our hero is given a revolving door of tritely characterized antagonists who keep him down and want nothing but to see him fail (even the host of the game show is an egotistical boor who hates that Jamal is taking the spotlight away from him), Jamal is steadfast in his mission of acquiring the love of his life. And if he wins a million dollars in the process, that's swell, too!
Cutesy and romantic as it is, (it even has a Bollywood-style dance-number finale!), "Slumdog" is a movie whose triumph-of-the-will infectiousness may uplift some and irk others. Nonetheless, it's the kind of accessible charmer that usually, inexplicably finds its way in the Oscar best-picture race.