Slumdog Millionaire is the film with a thousand faces. It’s hope amidst the worst recession in decades. It’s unrepentant love in the time of cholera. It’s sweet, it’s visually stimulating, and it’s the best motion picture made in 2008, at least according to The Academy. Too bad it’s also a forgettable, obvious fairy tale robotically programmed to tug at the heart strings of ignorant philistines. Slumdog Millionaire might be last year’s John 3:16 for most, but it’s last year’s 3 A.M. Lifetime original shitfest for me. It’s a poorly conceived, overly sentimental bitch slap to the face of common sense. It shoehorns in a plot about God out of nowhere, seems to endorse spending lives pining after girls you knew for about a month when you were eight, and worst of all, expects the viewer to sympathize with a character who has no real purpose in life other than to be trampled on by society. For all its unrepentant optimism and contrived emotion, Slumdog Millionaire is hollow and pointless, an excuse for Danny Boyle to show off a few neat camera tricks and prove he can make lonely, shallow moviegoers say, “Awww…”. But it’s the best picture of 2008.
My name is Mack Rawden, and I am here to recruit you. I’m here to separate your intellect from your hormones, usher you away from your hearts and into a forum of scholarly debate. Philosophers and studiers of film have long speculated movies become culturally important not because of their quality but because of the precise moment they were made. I get that, and I understand why, in a miserable, shitty economy, people would want to shell out nine dollars for unapologetic happiness but Slumdog Millionaire has been given an honor denied to Raging Bull, Taxi Driver and The Last Picture Show. It deserves a serious once over, and the truth is, Danny Boyle’s movie is empty, a utopia constructed with shoddy materials. It’s a slum.
The hero of Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal Malik, is a nervous, unlikable shell of a human being. I say he’s unlikable because there’s nothing to him. He has no quirks, eccentricities or qualities to set him apart. All we really know about him is he was orphaned by his mother, abandoned by his brother, and abandoned by the only girl he’s ever considered loving. These are not reasons to like him but reasons to feel sorry for him, and there’s a difference. You know how sometimes milk cartons have the pictures of missing children on the side? Well, when was the last time you really stopped everything to stare at the poor kid and ask yourself whether you’ve seen him? Think about how shitty that makes us all sound as human beings. A kid has been abducted, taken from everything he loves in this world and we can’t spend five seconds studying the picture to help save his life? Yeah, that makes us all sound like shitty human beings, but we don’t spend those five seconds because we have nothing personally invested in that child. He’s just nameless and faceless, unlikeable, merely someone to feel sorry for. Jamal Malik is that kid on the milk carton, except, inexplicably, we‘ve all stopped to randomly obsess over the same picture. Jamal’s face is no different than a thousand others long forgotten, but I guess his picture came along at the right time to be deemed culturally important. Woohoo for the sounds of dumb fucking luck.
Jamal’s brother, Salim, is also without depth, which is why it should come as no surprise he found God just in time to deliver that obnoxious line about the creator’s goodness while laying in a bathtub full of money put there for awkward reasons to forcibly ram home some fable-like symbolism involving simultaneous loss and gain of personal fortune among the Malik brothers. This should not surprise you at all, not only because of the vast dearth which are Salim’s dreams but because of the erratic, isn’t-that-just-convenient nature of the movie as a whole. Isn’t it just convenient Malik found a blind kid to tell him where Latika was and that same blind kid asked him to describe who was on the one hundred dollar bill and who was on the one hundred dollar bill came up later as a question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Isn’t it just convenient that one of the phone operators left to watch Who Wants To Be A Millionaire but not before Jamal described to him the proper time to get your call through on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and that coworker’s break led to Jamal finding Latika who he would later call for the final question after getting on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Isn’t it all just so goddamn convenient?
Maybe that’s the point, some grand commentary on the revolving, constantly-affecting nature of our relationships with other human beings. We all know a guy who knows a guy who knows that guy. Of course, Jamal was able to track down Latika because that’s just how life works out. Maybe that was the point but it was one made by p.t. anderson far more effectively in Magnolia. But that movie didn’t win any Academy Awards because it was messy, it was real. People had depth. They grew as characters, they’re relationships forced them to evolve. Jamal doesn’t grow as a person. He’s stagnant, lifeless and stupid. He loved Latika when he was six; so, he still loves her now, even after she played house with a wannabe Scarface douche bag. He loved Salim when he was six; so, he still loves him now, even after he slept with Latika and marooned his own brother. He would probably still fall in shit to get that actor’s autograph because goddamnit, he did it when he was six.
My name is Mack Rawden, and I am here to recruit you. Slumdog Millionaire has won Best Motion Picture but that doesn’t mean it necessarily needs to be remembered as the best film of 2008. Forrest Gump won the coveted prize in ’94 and now most people seem to prefer Shawshank Redemption. Perspectives are roving. Watch Slumdog Millionaire again. Question why the movie starts with a cheesy Who Wants To Be A Millionaire question and ends with its equally cheesy answer. Question why Jamal is a sympathetic character. Question why he still loves Latika when her only purpose in the movie seems to be showing up randomly once every few years. Question why you were so moved in the first place. Just because the message was one you wanted to hear doesn’t mean the spokesman delivered it any better than his competitor espousing the antithesis.
Slumdog Millionaire is the film with a thousand different faces. When you stop fixating on the unrelentingly optimistic mugs, you’ll realize there are nine hundred and ninety-five others uglier and more naïve than Milk, Gran Torino and The Dark Knight. Slumdog Millionaire is a sweet little film with gaping plot holes and average acting performances. Let’s not pretend its Annie Hall because we were in the mood for cartoonish happy endings.