Thursday, January 15, 2009

10 Things I Hate About Slumdog Millionaire

There's a scene towards the beginning of Slumdog Millionaire that, if you think about it, is really quite an apt metaphor for the film as a whole and my reaction to it. A young Indian boy named Jamal (played at this point by Ayush Mahesh Khedekar) is locked in an outdoor bathroom- which, in reality, is nothing more than a hole in the ground- by his angry brother because he drove away a paying customer. When a famous and beloved Bollywood star lands in a helicopter near the area, his brother leaves Jamal locked in the toilet and goes running towards the commotion that has arisen. Jamal beats on the door but no one can hear him. He then looks down at the hole in the ground and is forced to make a decision: miss the chance to meet his idol and stay clean or jump in the pile of shit and get his coveted autograph. Needless to say, Jamal decides on the latter and, drenched in feces and piss, runs up to the star and asks for the autograph.

Confused? Let me break it down: Slumdog Millionaire is Jamal at this moment, a film so eager to accomplish something so insignificant that it isn't aware that the journey it took to reach its destination was nothing more than a trek through a pile of shit.

Yeah, so I'm afraid I have to dissent from the Golden Globes, nearly every critic's organization in the country and a good majority of the nation's film critics/bloggers- Slumdog is one of the worst movies of the year and here are the ten main reasons why I hated it so much.

1. White Liberal Guilt
The first half in particular, in which the three young children are forced to survive on the mean streets of the slums of India, hinges on the hope that white Westerners will get choked up at the ordeals these kids are not only put through, but survive. You can almost hear Our Lord and Saviour, Oprah telling her audience full of white, middle-class housewives, "I've seen it peopleeeeeeee! This movie will change your life and give you hope!" You can imagine Brangelina at a private screening whispering to each other about how they need to adopt a little Indian baby next.

2. Structure

I'm not sure if the structure of the screenplay is based on the book the film is adapted from (I've never read it or ever intend to), but Simon Beaufoy's treatment is the laziest, most repetitive script of this Oscar season. There is nothing surprising about anything concerning the structure of the film: you know that with every question that is asked, we are going to get some long, turgid flashback that will "cleverly" show us the random, inexplicable moments in his life when the question was brought up. I can't believe this script is getting attention when there are so many other screenplays that also took chances with ordinary themes and subjects and took them in unparalleled- and unpredictable- places (Happy-Go-Lucky, In Bruges, The Visitor).

3. "Oh look, they're running again."

Was it just me or did the first two or three flashbacks consist of nothing but people running away for whatever reason? And considering that these flashbacks cover a good 10 to 15 minutes of the first 20 minutes, this could be a problem.

4. Obviousness

Okay, you would seriously need to be the densest person on the planet if you can't guess what the final question (or, at least, the subject of the final quesion) will be as soon as it was brought to our attention. The whole film seems to suffer from this- every theme and new idea is pounded into our heads with the subtletly of a jackhammer.

5. "When did they learn English?"

I'm sorry, but how in the hell did Jamal and his brother learn to speak English? Did I miss the scene where they stopped fending for their lives on the streets to go to school to get a proper education?

6. Dev Patel

I'm not saying he's a bad actor by any means and he was actually quite adorable at the Golden Globes, but isn't this the most overrated performance of the year? The role requires nothing more of Patel than to sit there, stare and act uncomfortable around everyone. It's an incredibly one-note role than no one could have done much with and yet a multitude of critics' organizations are citing him for Breakthrough Performance of the year? Say what?

7. Feelgood Film...?

...Maybe if you're a sadist and get turned on by electrocution, mass murder (in the name of God, at that!) and children being blinded.

8. I liked this movie better five years ago when it was called City of God

Glenn subtly mentioned this when he saw the film a couple of weeks ago and I just couldn't shake the comparisons. Fernando Meirelles' breakthrough was also about a Brazilian child of the slums who survives some pretty gruesome shit and, incredibly, escapes the dire poverty of his upbringing. The only major difference I can see is that, you know, City of God is actually a good movie and doesn't rely on mucky, inspirational fluff to get its message across.

9. Foreign Arthouse Film- Hollywood Style

Director Danny Boyle tries to give Slumdog some grit and arthouse credibility with his offbeat cinematography (check out those crazy colors, man!) and editing, but for all of it's attempts to be un-Hollywood, Slumdog is really a typical Oscar bait film. Instead of saying something new or daring about the lives of these children of the slums, the film tries to sucker you through "heart," "emotion" and "tears." I'm sure I'll hear in response to this post, "Oh, don't you feel bad for those poor children? You must have no soul if you weren't moved by Slumdog." Well, yes, I did feel bad for the children- no one should be forced to live like that- but I can name five more interesting films that say the same things about that topic as this film. What makes this one any better?

10. Critic Attention

This past Sunday at the Golden Globes, as I'm sure you're all well aware, Slumdog went 4/4, picking up Best Picture (Drama), Director, Screenplay (?!) and Original Score (the only aspect of the movie I liked). This was the precise moment when I realized I needed to say something. Have people lost their fucking minds? I'm sorry to be so blunt, but, Jesus Christ, all the critics are acting like they've never seen a film before this one. Danny Boyle did not invent India, Bollywood, slum children or feel good-iness. It almost makes me sick that this film will probably win the Best Picture Oscar in a couple of months; not only would it be the worst winner since Shakespeare in Love (sorry, I can't stand that movie) but it's also fairly reminiscent of a much maligned (and for good reason) Best Picture winner from the 70's: Rocky. Imagine how embarrassing it will be in 20 years when we have to admit to our children/grandchildren a mistake as silly and avoidable as picking Slumdog for Best Picture; I'm sure it will look just as foolish as Rocky does now. D+


Kamikaze Camel said...

Ouch, indeed. I didn't hate it - far from it - I just think it's flaws are so glaringly obvious that I find it bizarre how anyone can praise it and claim it as anything more than a fairly standard "exotic" movie. The bit about Danny Boyle not inventing any of this is so true, and he's done similar work in the past in much more legitimately vibrant and emotionally connected movies.

The whole movie is quite obvious. Everything. We all know how it ends, we know he's going to get every question right (and trailers and ads told us that) so I don't know where the tension is meant to come from. And, for what it's worth, I had completely forgotten about that whole shit sequence. Despite the fact that it didn't even look like shit, but it was still very gross and then there was the scene where the kid stole the autograph and we're meant to be all "that poor child! if i were there I'd let him have my leftovers!".

You're right about the english speaking thing. I'd never even thought of that.

Vance said...

lol. I knew someone would bring up these points and the backlash would begin, I just didn't think it would be you.

anyways, your points are valid but a lot of them are exactly what makes this film great and why I loved it.

Michael Parsons said...

Just to comment on No.5. My dad is from India and even the poorest kids learn english so they can beg (and there was a scene in the school where they are learning). Most people in India speak some English. Kind of sad that with my privileged upbringing I can only manage broken Spanish.

Otherwise very valid points. Do you think you would have hated the film if it had not been as popular?

Dame James Henry said...

Glenn: I'm glad you can see my points even if we disagree on how much we liked the film.

Vance: So the fact that the film is glaringly obvious, faux-arthouse and a "feelgood" film is a plus in your mind? Please explain because I'm at a total loss...

Michael: If this film hadn't been so popular, I never would have seen it. The trailer looked God-awful and the only reason I braved a screening of it was because of all its Oscar attention. And thanks for clarifying the whole English speaking thing- that does make a bit more sense, even if they hadn't spoken a word of it before the switch to the 2nd Jamal and his brother.

Michael Parsons said...

See I saw it before it properly took off, and even got nominated for anything, and I liked it, thought it was an entertaining feel good film, and left it at that.

Then it started to get this huge awards sweep and I was like
Guess it goes to show that not everyone has the same taste really.

Bet you re really peeved at those BAFTA noms

Slayton said...


Vance said...

Yah, it just sort of shamelessly pulls together all the best feel good elements and throws it together. (It's kinda like the indie version of Love Actually which is the romcom version of the same thing).

but yes, everyone in India seemed to speak English from my (little) travels.

I agree it's not a perfect movie but it was a blast of the senses that i still loved it overall and why its my push for the Oscar even if it's not the best film of the year. Yes, City of God is a far better film but a whole different animal.

nick plowman said...

*smiles and waves, smiles and waves*

Dame James Henry said...

Michael: Yeah, let's not even get mention the BAFTA's. I don't want to risk having an aneurysm about that.

Slayton: YOU TOO

Vance: I guess I can't beat up on you too much since there are certain films (or subgenres) that I know are flawed but can't help loving anyways (yeah, I'm a total sucker for inspirational teacher dramas).

Nick: So sorry we don't agree...

J.D. said...

You're such a genius.

Anonymous said...

I think Slumdog Millionaire will be a LOVE-HATE film like Titanic, American Beauty, Moulin Rouge!, A Man and a Woman (You love it or hate but not in the middle)... I like it and I think Dev Patel did it a good job (Beside the principal problem is not his perofrmance is the character). It's my opinion, but I respect yours. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for articulating my thoughts, exactly. We just got home from seeing it, and I also feel angry and betrayed. We are friends with 2 young men who just got back from working for 10 days in Calcutta, and they said the film is very accurate in portraying what the slums are like, I did not feel that the film deserves to be the sweetheart that it has been made out to be. Critical praise and Oscars do not always tell the whole story. The gratuitous dance number during the credits made me even angrier than I already was. Plus, it didn't help that the people sitting behind us were talking the whole time and just as every predictable moment was unfolding, they guessed exactly what was happening. The movie wants to be a gritty reality piece, but it isn't. The odds of what were happening were outrageous on screen, and while I have not read the book it was based upon, I'm thinking that it's not a very good adaptation. My favorite film of the year so far is the documentary Young at Heart and my favorite film last year was Waitress which were both overlooked by Academy voters. Maybe Young at Heart was 2007, but I saw it this forgive me if I'm wrong about that. Thanks for pointing out the part about the kids learning to speak English. LOL

Shawn said...

thank you for this, I feel like I could've written this, I feel like I'm going crazy or like some pretentious a-hole because I dont like this, but then I think about the actual film again, and just cant wrap my head around the glory it's received.

Anonymous said...

You're a hack, and you're just reiterating every stereotypical criticism you've heard about alleged "quality" films, combined with about every sentiment ever expressed on

1.) This could be straight out of Juno. It's so funny because it's cynical! If you want me to take your claim seriously, try writing down your own thoughtful analysis, instead of making an attempt at humor.
2.)This isn't a complaint, it's just that you dislike the format of the movie. Dislike is not a valid motive for criticism, you actually have to have put some thought behind it. The whole movie is about his life, and how he lucked out on the show because of his experiences. Would you condemn the Da Vinci code because it had explicit references to religious content?
3.)I have nothing to say about this because, again, it's just a matter of taste and dislike.
4.) Ever think that subtlety is not the goal of every director, because some things are just so obvious that they should be presented as legitimate issues, not small intellectual brain-teasers for the "white guilt" crowd, which supposedly is this movie's audience? I don't think he shot the entire movie in the actual slums because he wanted to be subtle...
5.) Is it so implausible that they speak English? Or is it so unreasonable that the director would want his film to reach a broader audience than those select NYU students who would see the film with subtitles? Considering that you won't even read the book, it seems unlikely that you'd even go.
6.) Are you an acting major? Because you sound like one of those bitter kids who didn't get the lead in a high school play. The character does not have to be as complex as Daniel Plainview to be interesting.
7.)I'm sorry...would you like your human suffering served with sugary coating? Or do you think a message that emphasizes hope in the face of immense pain and trauma is bad? These things happen. They're terrible. This is why subtlety in a movie such as this is simply ridiculous. In the face of such things, hope is not overlooked, but it is underestimated, and the director pointing this out to us isn't subtle, because the point is not subtle.
8.)You mean to tell me there is more than ONE rags-to-riches story about a kid from a country other than America growing up and overcoming is poverty-stricken upbringing? Is there also more than one romantic comedy in which the guy and the girl kiss in the rain, or break up right before the end of the movie only to get back together in the nick of time??
9.)I'm questioning whether you even have a "heart" as anyone who would describe the mental and the emotional state of someone living in the slums with quotation marks is clearly just a.) faking it to seem clever and jaded (so unheard of in kids of our generation) or b.) a centurian.
10.)I think I've made my point...

El Pulkito said...

The anonymous above me is a hack.
Your post is spot on. Couldnt agree more with everything that you had to say.

bert said...

Hello, yes, I am one of those people who reject Slumdog Millionaire [SM] completely. First of all India, as it is today, is a result of western colonialism in the recent past. Today's people in India probably embrace western values like riches, so they might sell everything to make money. That's ok with me. But what's not ok with me is that children at the age of 4 allready sell other's emotional belongings to profit themselves. At least, that is shown in SM. So SM suggest that even India's infants are morally corrupted. Why, because in SM they see no other example than grown ups who abuse children.

In my opinion, this is a shameless projection on India of the western world's own moral failure. Haven't we all heard of mass child abusement in the catholic church? Of the Dutroux's and Fritzl's terror cellars? Of the mentality "those are not my children so why bother"?

SM suggest that India's children are literaly willing to go through shit to get what they want. Well, it is us, western society, who does that, not literal because we have the power to stay "clean".

Is the fun of seeing SM "watching monkeys" and afterwards going safely home in suburbia?

I don't believe that inhibitants of India's slums are child molestors. And if they are, they are no worst than we, after all, we created modern India. Or India has copied us, cuz they have no other option in world economics.

So when SM's protagonist finally gets what he is after, is that worth 100 minutes of terror against children? No, and this is defenitely not what I call balance.

I know cruelty against children exists in this world. What I oppose to is that this problem is used in pop video clip style to be able to sell it to the unaware public. We recognize the fast images, digitally captured in blinding brilliant colors and livelyness. It's our language telling a story that is thankfully not ours. WRONG, it is sadly our own story.

Underneath mister Danny Boyle's fast cut piece of India lies colonialism and discrimination.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post!!!