At the Oscars the other week the surprise hit Slumdog Millionaire took a whole lot of honors, outside of the acting awards. Mrs. Dr. Phil had seen the movie in Holland MI when I was off to ConFusion in Troy MI back in January. Now this weekend Mrs. Dr. Phil is the one off at a conference/workshop and so on the way back from the airport, I swung by Celebration Cinema South at the M-6 freeway and Kalamazoo Avenue -- the one local Jack Loeks theatre we've never been to yet -- and caught up.
Actually, I hadn't made up my mind until the drive out to the airport. It was such a beautiful blue sky day, that spending a couple of hours inside a dark movie theatre seemed the perfect thing to do. (grin) Unfortunately, I'd misremembered the times at the various theatres, and so I was there at 1:30, but the movie wouldn't start for at least 45 minutes. Fortunately, I could just wander back to the Bravada and listen to the rest of Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, the NPR news quiz show.
Slumdog Millionaire [R]
Celebration South #13, 2:15pm, $6.50
The mini review in the GRPress started off by describing this movie as "gritty." Oh yes, and more. And yet, it manages to be both a charming love story and triumphant, while honestly earning its R-rating, for all those things which are neither charming nor triumphant.
This is not a picture that could've been made in the U.S. While I'm sure that most Americans don't realize that Who Wants To Be A Millionaire had it origins "somewhere else", i.e. Britain, the real shock is not that this is the Indian version of the game show, or that the top prize is 20,000,000 rupees. It's that our characters come out of a childhood that can only, from my priviledged background, be described as a Third World nightmare. And coupled with an adult world of corruption and brutality which is also, I hope, not part of the American experience. And yet...
The story is told in flashbacks leading up to the top question of the game show, the comforting four-answer multiple choice interrogation of WWTBAM and the unexpected police interrogation. The performances of the children is outstanding and the diversity of locations and conditions, with many physical dangers, along with numerous plot twists, makes it a complicated woven tapestry. And since we want our main character to win, it is easy to buy into both the gritty realism and the fairy tale.
What makes the movie endearing is that two of the three children we're following manage to grow up relatively intact, educated -- and stay nice, despite all that happens to them. Mrs. Dr. Phil describes this as the fairy tale aspect of the movie. Sure, but I think it's important to the movie and its success that this is so. Because I could imagine a darker version where Jamal was raised as a con man, in which his sincere look and professed innocence is fake -- and the ending would be much like the ending to The Usual Suspects, where you cannot believe anything which has happened earlier.
In any event, Slumdog Millionaire isn't quite what you might've thought it would be. And that is a very good thing.
Do stay for the credits, because they do a lovely Bollywood production number on the train platforms.