Last night I finally got around to watching Slumdog Millionaire — the best movie of 2008 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. I was pretty disappointed with the movie (though not for the reasons I expected) and perplexed as to why so many people thought it was such a great film (maybe commenters here can help shed some light on it’s greatness?).
First, some history of me and the film: I absolutely love the director: Danny Boyle. I love Trainspotting, I was one of the few who liked The Beach, I was one of the few who went back and watched Shallow Grave, I liked 28 Days Later, and I absolutely loved Sunshine. When I first heard that he was behind Slumdog Millionaire, I was totally interested in seeing it. Before it opened widely, it was playing at the Harvard Exit theatre — one of my favorite small theatres playing independent/”art house” films.
Then the movie started getting all sorts of Oscar buzz and everyone and their mother felt the need to see it and I became a bit disinterested. (Which happens often — once everyone loves something it loses its appeal to me…) And then at the 2008 Academy Awards Slumdog Millionaire cleaned up and left The Dark Knight behind — and I very strongly feel that The Dark Knight was the best movie of 2008 and I’m still overly bitter about the fact that it didn’t even get nominated for Best Picture…
So finally last night I saw the film. Based on the fact it won an Oscar and word-of-mouth reviews I’ve heard from people, I was expecting some overly romantic sentimental movie. Everyone called it the “feel good movie of the year” so I was expecting non-stop feel-goodness — and I know I’d hate that.
But in ultimately, it was really only a “feel good movie” for the final 10-15 minutes of the film. Mostly it was a very artistically-shot flashback-heavy movie with a great soundtrack. But that describes a lot of the movies I see every year… so, again, I’m not sure what made Slumdog Millionaire so exceptional.
My thoughts on some specific aspects of the film:
Soundtrack: Danny Boyle has always been a master of creating a great soundtrack for his films:
- The first scene in Trainspotting with Iggy Pop’s “Lust For Life”
- The final scene in Trainspotting which made Underworld’s “Born Slippy” famous
- The video game scene in The Beach with Blur’s “On Your Own” (note: if you are looking for the songs the film uses the “Crouch End Broadway” and “Walter Wall” mixes)
- Grandaddy’s “A.M. 180” during the supermarket shopping scene in 28 Days Later
Likewise, like everyone else, I loved the “boys on a train” scene with M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” in Slumdog Millionaire. And the rest of the soundtrack — I don’t know if it’s “traditional Bollywood”-like music or what — really added to the “authentic” feel of the movie.
The Love Story: I expected the film to completely center around the love story. People described the film as “they [Jamal and Latika] keep trying to find each other but never connect.” Actually, they did keep connecting but then they’d split up for whatever reason (usually related to Jamal’s brother Salim). And yeah, at the end when they did the “feel good” reunion and dance it did feel like they made some love connection, but I didn’t feel the big pay-off that I expected.
But the more interesting question for me is: Why were they so into each other? As kids, I cannot imagine that they had a terribly romantic connection when they first met — if anything, I would expect them to have a brother/sister relationship. The fleeting moments they had together hardly gave them enough time to fall in love in any meaningful way. I know it’s a movie and all, but for “The Best Movie of 2008” I expected a more nuanced approach to love.
The Cinematography: Yeah it was artsy and cool, but the whole look-and-feel of the film reminded me of early Wong-Kar Wai films (e.g. Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Days of Being Wild). It was cool and all in Slumdog Millionaire but I have a feeling that a lot of people saw “cool camera techniques” for the first time and thought it was innovative? Or maybe it just worked really well for this movie? Anyway I didn’t think it was anything special but I feel like it’s part of what made the movie such a success?
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?: Incidentally, I’m reading The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America by Dr. Drew so the fact that Jamal wanted to be a celebrity by being on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? so that Latika would see him struck me as very real.
Conclusion: In the end, I expected to hate Slumdog Millionaire because I thought it was going to be an overly dramatic love story with a little bit of rags-to-riches thrown in for extra sentimentality. In the end, what I felt I got was a decent movie that wasn’t terribly groundbreaking or extra great in any way. If I were to be able to vote for the Best Picture film and The Dark Knight wasn’t an option, I probably would’ve gone with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (for the huge scope and special effects and whatnot) for Best Picture. (But really I still think The Dark Knight should’ve won…)
So where am I wrong? What did I miss?