Thursday, December 18, 2008

Slumdog Millionaire (Danny Boyle 2008)

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire can best be described as ambient Bollywood. Given its Mumbai setting, the film is dusted with references to India's (if not the world's) largest motion picture industry but in the end (and how!) steadfastly resists the structure of its films. There's a shit-covered encounter with Sholay icon Amitabh Bachchan. Boyle has enlisted the scoring talents of singer/composer A.R. Rahman (best known in the States for Lagaan). And the story is no less preposterous than any number of Bollywood feel-gooders. Street urchin Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) winds up on the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? and each question just so happens to reference a usually horrifying event in his life. The game show provides the paint-by-numbers grid and flashbacks to Jamal's past color in the details all the way up to the beyond obvious climax.

That's bad enough right there. But what's really infuriating about Slumdog Millionaire is that Boyle felt compelled to indulge in the annoying English-speaking film practice of shunting off a musical number to the final credits. Just as the obsessively plotted story comes to an end, cast and crew run out on a subway platform and perform a choreographed dance (but do not sing) to "Jai Ho" (sung by Sukhwinder Singh) with Patel leading the charge. Thus when it comes to song, the film has more in common structurally with There's Something About Mary, Shrek, Bend It Like Beckham, Garage Days, Down With Love, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Hitch, Jackass 2, Inland Empire, The Game Plan, and I Think I Love My Wife than it does with Sholay or Lagaan. And thus Boyle flubbed a perfect opportunity to invigorate his stiffly conceived film with song and dance.

This is not a plea for Bollywood authenticity (sort of a laughable concept anyway). Indeed, if we're to believe Rahman, the film has nothing to do with India in the first place. In an interview with Logan Hill for New York magazine, he admits that:

"For me, it’s not about India at all. It’s about human emotion, how we suppress so much and it all comes out. It’s a human film, not about India at all. The soundtrack isn’t about India or Indian culture. The story could happen anywhere: China, Brazil, anywhere. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is on in every damn country."

After sucking on 120 minutes of Slumdog's sap, I'm inclined to agree with his human's lib perspective. But my One World movie would feature a more regular alternation between narrative and number. Slumdog Millionaire is missing that regular alternation which offers not only a set of disjointed pleasures but the potential for auto-critique that is the gift of the best Hollywood musicals and Bollywood films. Instead the story remains confident of its own cleverness throughout even though its architecture is laid out in its entirety by the first ten minutes. And the benefits of musicality come too late, as we're walking out of the theater.


Post a Comment

<< Home