Sunday, April 24, 2011

Heavy Rotation Theater: Slumdog Millionaire

Cable channels love playing movies. Specifically, channels like playing the same movie over and over. I'm sure it has to do with paying the rights to show it. It's why Shawshank Redemption plays on TNT every other day for a whole month. Even for a good movie it can get a bit excessive. Watching the movie every time you're channel surfing leads you to really pick it apart. With that first-watch-amazement faded away, the watcher can actually form a real opinion on the piece. With FX's recent repeat showings of 2008's Slumdog Millionaire, I have formulated such an opinion. Why it is good, it's overrated. I'm not going as far to say it sucks, but there are certainly better films out there (but more on that later in the rant).

I doubt Danny Boyle wants any of his films being considered "feel-good."

Slumdog Millionaire is a story about destiny, poverty and learning random trivia from those around you. It's about retaining innocence through a horrible life and undying love that lasts for years. The main character, Jamal Malik, barely survives instances of his life, yet all of his dreams come true by perseverance . It's a nice story. A modern day fairy tale set in India and revolving around a game show we all got tired of ten years ago.

Surprisingly still on television.

It's a lot of things. It's a love story, a coming-of-age tale, a snapshot of modern day India and a view of slums and poverty (slum is in the title after all). All of these aspects should come together nicely but, with its reliance on fate as a plot device and clear cut moral, it just turns out saccharine. Saccharine is, of course, sugar substitute. And while trying to be sweet and nice, it just turns out to be artificial. Much like Sweet'n Low, Slumdog Millionaire attempts at having a world unifying message but just feels fake. Slumdog is a manipulative tale about prime time deus ex machina and having a crush on that girl you grew up with.

Sorry Malik.

I did like the movie, but it's not even one of the best Danny Boyle films made. As a director I respect Boyle completely. He's revolutionized cinema with his own style and consistently makes quality and original films. But this is the director of Trainspotting I'm talking about here (I've recently named Trainspotting as my fifth favorite film of all time). How could a director with such edge and fearlessness end up making such a sterile movie. Slumdog is clear cut with no real overreaching message aside from a juvenile moral about destiny. It's an over stylized parable that we've seen done countless times before. Yes, Malik goes through horrible things in his life but the movie literally ends on a dancing number. Yes I know the ending is an homage to Bollywood but that doesn't excuse the whole movie feeling hollow. The best I can say about it is that it beat out Milk for best picture.

I hate Sean Penn.

I didn't hate Slumdog, I just found it consciously trying to make itself an audience-pleaser, which is the antithesis of my view on Boyle. The whole movie was just overdone. The best thing it did was tell a story of a boy raising himself out of the slums and not falling subject to the crime around him. There are films that told that message better though. One film in particular represented everything I wished Slumdog to be.

The chicken in the foreground makes more sense then it should after watching it.

City of God is a 2002 Brazilian film about life in a crime-ridden slum outside Rio de Janeiro. It's a kinetic, unflinching view of life in a desperate community, where you either become a criminal or find a way to rise above it. Unlike Slumdog, City of God is authentic in its storytelling. And not just because it is based off a true story, but because it does not hold any pretense or judgment over its characters. The slum itself is not merely a setting to be exploited like in Slumdog, but a character itself. It's an organism that either assimilates you into its corruption or allows you to escape. It's the kind of movie Boyle would of made 15 years ago.

I hope success doesn't go to his head. It's already pretty bulbous.

Compared to Boyle's past films, Slumdog is almost pedestrian. I don't want to call it overrated, because I did enjoy it. It's just that there are movies like City of God that tell similar stories and tell them better. City of God isn't a movie that makes you feel good about life. It's a film that makes you reflect on it and marvel at it. Director Fernando Meirelles holds no pretense in his film. He instead allowed the story to tell itself. Boyle on the other hand started his movie out with pretentious musings about fate.

Somehow the chicken poster for City of God makes more sense than this poster.

1 comment:

  1. Actually using the grammar abortion "would of" kills an otherwise well written article..