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Slumdog Millionaire

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I wasn't planning to see this movie, but somehow over the past couple days it started sounding more and more interesting, and I read the beginning of an Entertainment Weekly review yesterday evening that made it sound kind of light and fluffy and charming:

[...] 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.

So I mentioned to Kam the radical notion that we could see movies two nights in a row, and pointed out the four movies in theatres that I'm interested in seeing, and she picked this one, which was listed as a comedy in the listing she saw.

So we ventured out, despite the cold (I know that 43°F is nothing for many of y'all, but here in California it's practically freezing!) to see the movie.

I noted in my comments about Despereaux that there were jarring shifts in tone between fun and dark. There are shifts in tone in Slumdog as well, but they're not so jarring, because it starts out dark (and occasionally gross) and gets quite a lot darker before the fun parts come along. And then there's a lot more rough stuff later on.

If I had to put a genre on it, I would start with "romance," and then add bits of other genres. Dickensian drama, maybe? It has funny moments, but I would certainly not label it a comedy, nor would I describe most of the squalor as "colorful"; I felt it ranged from grim and brutal to, well, Dickensian. To be fair, the EW review goes on to be much more insightful and nuanced than the above excerpt; I just didn't read far enough in it, 'cause I had decided I wanted to see the movie, and I was trying to avoid seeing any spoilers.

Overall, I think the movie's worth seeing. But it's certainly not light and fluffy--fairly early on, for example, we see someone burn to death on-camera during an attack on Muslims. The slum scenes, by and large, reminded me more of City of God than of Capra.

And the treatment of women is nothing to write home about. (Although the Alliance of Women Film Journalists named this movie the best film of the year.) It occurred to me most of the way through the movie that this movie fails the Bechdel test: there's essentially only one prominent female character, and she barely ever even appears on screen with any of the few other (very minor) female characters, much less talks with them. For that matter, it seems to me that the female lead herself is almost more a plot device than a character; she does have some character of her own, but we see her mostly through the idealizing eyes of the male lead. But to some extent I'd say that's 'cause of romance genre conventions.

(On another political note, someone in an online comment pointed out that the choice of changes in skin tone as the three main characters age is a little unfortunate.)

Still, there's plenty to like. An interesting (albeit a little gimmicky) structure and premise/conceit; engaging child actors (some of whom were apparently recruited from the streets of Mumbai); a romance that the romantic in me found appealing; etc. And I imagine I would have liked other parts of it more if I'd gone into it with the right expectations.

I should add that I know very little about the book that the movie was based on, so I'm not sure which aspects came from the book and which didn't.

And almost all the critics seem to adore this movie, so don't take my reaction to it too seriously; I'm apparently in a minority for not loving it.

4 Comments

Both book (which I've read) and movie (which I haven't seen) are considered problematic in my circles.


I thought the movie was really good. I want Benjamin Button to win at the oscars but its a good movie as well.

[Note from Jed: This appears to be spam, so I removed the email address and URL, but I decided to leave the comment itself because at least it's coherent spam.]


I saw a preview of the film a couple of weeks ago, and had the same reservations about Latika as you, but still enjoyed it a fair bit. I think Danny Boyle's films are almost always visually interesting (and aurally interesting; I like a good soundtrack), even if they're otherwise flawed.


I watched this movie with a man who spent quite a bit of time living on the streets in Mexico City and we both laughed and cheered. I think that one of the things the film does best is show the joy and resilience of children, despite the poverty. In "serious" movies and "literary" books there is often no joy and humor when there is abject poverty.


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