Thursday, January 08, 2009


Where's Regis when you need him?

By Edward Copeland
It's not exactly writer's block, but sometimes there are films, films that I think are fine, even good, that I just can't think of much to say about. However, they are important in the current award universe so I feel compelled to comment upon them. So please, bear with me, as I struggle to find things to say about Slumdog Millionaire.

Now, this inability to come up with much insightful to say about Danny Boyle's film should not be a reflection upon the film itself. I liked Slumdog Millionaire. Do I think it is a great film? No. Do I think it is a good film? Yes. Part of this block may be sheer exhaustion on my part as I try to get back into the film blogging swing of things and my desire to cover all the majors may have finally overwhelmed my ability to accomplish such a task.

Frankly, looking back at my output over the past couple of weeks, even I'm impressed given the amount of pain I'm in and the fatigue from which I suffer. It was such a relief to watch Doubt knowing that Josh R had already covered that review for me. So, while this is hardly the most cohesive of reviews, I'm just going to list some thoughts about Slumdog I did have.

Is Danny Boyle the go-to director for scenes involving diving into shit-filled toilets? Did the owners of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire franchise sign off on the depiction of the Indian version of their show as being corrupt? While I admire Boyle's attempt to try something different with subtitles, some still blend into the background and, more importantly, most are on screen too fleetingly to be read.

Finally, I get so tired of trying to sell young actors into supporting categories when they are so clearly leads. Dev Patel, despite the fact that other actors play his character at younger ages in flashbacks, dominates the movie from beginning to end and is most certainly the lead in the film. I wish I had more to say. Did I mention that I liked it?

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I enjoyed the film for its sights and sounds, landscape, architecture, and human props. Boyle is a very capable director and I like most of his other films (more than this one). I was even willing to go along with the structural conceit [questions/answers -> flashbacks] even if a bit hackneyed. And I've liked Dev Patel since Skins and Freida Pinto is, well, gorgeous.

I just don't think it deserves the praise and attention being lavished upon it. 86 on metacritic and 94 on tomatoes? Transplant this film to inner-city USA and I think its weakenesses (incredibly predictable, overly sentimental, cliché characterization, and fairy tale plotting) would be laid bare without the gorgeously shot travelogue of India and the cultural curiosity it engenders (in me, at least).

Oh, and he gets the girl AND the money?!
As I was watching Slumdog Millionaire, my thoughts drifted to another film - actually, to several other films, but one in particular which bore absolutely no ressemblance, stylistic, thematic or otherwise, to the one I was watching.

I thought about the scene in Fred Zinnemann's Julia, in which Jane Fonda has her last meeting with the title character in a Berlin cafe. Fonda's Lillian Hellman notices that Vanessa Redgrave's leftist agitator is walking with crutches; Redgrave tells her that she has a wooden leg, which doesn't fit her very well, probably because it used to belong to someone else.

There are things to like about Slumdog Millionaire. Actually, there's not much to dislike about it, even though all of its scenes seem to belong to different movies. Mostly, it just feels like a grab bag, cobbled together from about a hundred different sources, most of which are totally at odds with one another. Sometimes it's a romantic fantasy. Other times it's City of God. It's a classic inspirational underdog movie, a tearjerker, a social consciousness-raiser, pure Hollywood pap and dirty-knuckled indie. It's dead serious, while there are things in it that can't possibly be taken seriously. And it's filmed like an MTV music video, and and ends with a peppy Bollywood production number. Every twenty minutes or so it turns into a different movie - so I'm stumped, basically. Can you make a serious statement about the degredations of poverty and human rights violations when every other scene is so rife with sappy, cornball sentimentality that you keep expecting Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr to wander in and smooch on a ship's deck? You can try, but you'll wind up with something that feels wildly inconsistent, if not completely schizophrenic.

In a way, it's fitting that this film has become the frontrunner for Best Picture in the aftermath of an election year. Not unlike a a political candidate, Slumdog is a classic example of the type of film that tries to be all things to all people. It's not a bad film - but you can't throw the best parts of City of God, Sleepless in Seattle and Rocky into a pot and get something that feels like a unified whole.
Lizz Winstead had a line I liked where she said she couldn't understand why everyone called it a feel-good movie when it's only a feel-good movie really in the last couple of minutes. That whole production number at the end struck me as odd. In a strange way, I think it's benefiting from the terror attack Mumbai suffered followed by the new terror attack being unleashed by Harvey.
Timeliness helps, certainly. I think it's benefitting more from the fact that it has something for everyone. I felt like I saw three movies for the price of one...only I did it in 2 hours instead of six, and I never had to leave my seat.
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