At about about 11 pm (CST) tonight, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences will hand out its Oscar for Best Picture to "Slumdog Millionaire," and I will throw my popcorn at the TV because I don't get the "Slumdog" phenomenon. The film was trite, contrived and predictable (did anyone really believe that Jamal and Latika would not hook up in the end?). The performances were pedestrian. And the "Bollywood" ending shattered any illusion that this film was to be taken seriously.
Don't get me wrong. There was some merit to the film. The graphic scenes of abject poverty in the slums of Bombay were moving and evocative. Ultimately, though, the director, Danny Boyle, used these scenes for his own exploitative purposes. The audience is hit broadside with the images of pitiable suffering, not to raise consciousness as part of an admirable character study or sociocultural epic, but merely to evince easy sympathy for hardscrabble kids who inevitably fall into pots of gold--one criminal, one coincidental. The irony is, the child stars, Azrahuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, and Rubina Ali, 9, still live in grinding poverty. They want money, not Oscars.
The older stars, Dav Patel and Freida Pinto, were sufficiently superficial to facilitate the laughable happenstances of the plot. Patel, apparently, has only two expressions--wide-eyed bewilderment and wide-eyed wonder. Even he is stunned by his success, "I have been absolutely amazed at the reaction." Pinto, though a show-stopping beauty, is not much better. Her character seems largely unfazed by her rags-to-ill-won-riches-to-true-love journey.
This is almost overshadowed by the exhilarating direction. Fast cuts, provocative angles, and memorable images might have saved the day. But in the end, it was only an attempt to disguise the wooden performances and the ridiculous contrivances. Nonetheless, Boyle is a shoe-in for Best Director.
What clinched it for me was the sudden and shocking dance number at the film's climax. It shredded the last remnant of melodramatic sweep. I've been informed that this number has theatrical precedence, but for me it rendered all that preceded it unreal and inconsequential.
In this day of heightened Muslim-Christian tensions, is Hollywood reaching out to Islamic artists? Or is this just AMPAS's lame attempt to have life imitate pseudo-art? Whatever; maybe a real dog is finally having its day.