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The UnPopular Opinion: Slumdog Millionaire

Aug. 8, 2012by: Alejandro Stepenberg

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THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

**** SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE came out of relative nowhere in 2008 and went on to win all sorts of Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture. The Oscar winning soundtrack became a hit in college dance classes everywhere (my own included), the film was deemed “the feel-good film of the decade," and I was swept up along with everybody else in its vibrant anthem of luck, love, and survival.

But then I re-watched it, as I'm willing to do with most any film I even halfway enjoy, and I was extremely surprised to discover that it in no way held up after that explosive, sensory-flooding first viewing. Certain elements about the crafting of it still impressed me and certain moments in the story still affected me, but on the whole I found little about SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE to justify its sweep of the Oscars in 2009 or the adoration it still receives to this day.

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"When somebody asks me a question, I tell them the answer."

I can enjoy a "feel good movie” that wraps up in a violently sweet saccharine bow – take as clear examples of this point my unabashed love of LOVE ACTUALLY and the piece that I wrote for this very column in full support of THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON.  So rest assured, this entry isn’t going to be some rage fest against movies that culminate in a firework display of true love triumphing over anything and everything life can throw in its way.  Unless that's what you were hoping for, in which case I'm afraid you're out of luck.  I appreciate such movies, I’ve firmly defended them to many a detractor, and never will you hear me deny the theoretical validity of such an ending. The practical validity of such an ending, however, is another question entirely.

For a movie to wrap up in such a fashion, and for me to not only accept it but like it, the journey up until that point needs to justify the chosen ending.  I find it jarring and disconnective to have a film's tone, atmosphere, and intention jump all over the place, with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE being by turns a fairy tale, dark drama, inspirational rags-to-riches story, love story, colorful exploration of another culture, and much more besides.  This is not to say that any of these elements needs be mutually exclusive, as indeed they are often made better by their careful juxtaposition.  But with SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE no effort seems to be made to actually weave each of this disparate elements together into a cohesive whole.  Not to mention the one constant element of this film that underlines every other element, namely that of it being a Western pity fest of epic proportions.

I think it would be fair to say that the majority of problems I have with the film's pacing and tonal inconsistency lie in the laps of screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and director Danny Boyle.  SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is built with a very particular structure, one centered around the mystery of how the main character correctly knew the answer to all of the questions he has been asked on the show "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."  But this greater mystery that is constantly afoot during all of the explanatory flashback sequences and the frenetic cuts back and forth between time/place is stretched far too thin to remain gripping, and so the film's momentum stops and starts in a very inorganic and altogether frustrating way.  What could have been an engaging question loses its potency due to the (often extensive) side routes taken to provide a small part of the greater answer we are seeking, an answer which then ends up being a mushy mess of "fate," "luck," and "it is written (destiny)."  I.e. the most unsatisfying end possible for this film to have settled on.  Again, not because of it being a fairy tale ending inherently, but because it's so out of synch with the suffer-fest that came before.

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"A few hours ago, you were giving chai for the phone walahs. And now you're richer than they will ever be. What a player!"

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE isn't an Indian film; it is rather a Western vision of India as imagined by comfortable Western sensibility, a colorful trek through tribulations and poverty in the name of two people floating up up and way in a cloud of confetti and love.  This film brings nothing new to storytelling, nothing new to India, nothing new to the way we as the West view a culture so drastically different from our own, nothing new to the question of how to survive seemingly relentless suffering, and nothing new to the Disney-perfected formula of affective plot crafting.  

At one point in the film, the police are chasing a young Jamal and push him to the ground, which also happens to be right at the feet of an American couple visiting the Taj Mahal.  Jamal looks up at them, one hand clutched to his swelling eye, and says "You wanted to see a bit of the real India? Here it is!" The woman looks down, her eyes overflowing with concern, gestures to her husband for some money, and hands over a $100 bill while saying "Well here's some of the real America, son." This magically makes everything better, as the police leave Jamal alone and that $100 eventually becomes another stepping stone on his journey to finding Latika.  Which is too bad - I just wanted some of more the real India, something the least bit inventive or illuminatory (as I believe all stories should aim to be) about the very real circumstances and questions the film continues to tease,.  As it is, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE isn't much more than a veneer of hope and possibility, a $100 bill of a film - crisp and pretty and expensive, but little else.

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"I thought we would meet only in death."
"This is our destiny."

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to ajstepenberg@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!

Extra Tidbit: I haven't even touched on the completely dumb death of Jamal's brother Salim. In character decision-making and storytelling execution it falls flat, capping off the character arc of several characters in a bitterly disappointing way.
Source: JoBlo.com

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12:19PM on 08/09/2012

I've only watched Slumdog Millionaire once

and I have no particular desire to see it again. That should give you some idea of what I think of this film. At the time, I enjoyed it but I felt it did get over-hyped at the Oscars. And I really felt Peter Gabriel's 'Down to Earth' from WALL-E should have taken Best Song. It still gives me chills when I hear it on my iPod or when I watch that film again.
and I have no particular desire to see it again. That should give you some idea of what I think of this film. At the time, I enjoyed it but I felt it did get over-hyped at the Oscars. And I really felt Peter Gabriel's 'Down to Earth' from WALL-E should have taken Best Song. It still gives me chills when I hear it on my iPod or when I watch that film again.
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12:54AM on 08/09/2012
Slumdog Millionaire was a really good film. I got completely into it and swept up by it, and wherever the story went it seemed the audience in the theater I was in willingly followed. It had a certain kind of intangible magic, something that struck a chord real deep, and it was fun to go along for the ride. You really got emotionally invested in Jamal, Salim and Latika's stories, and yes, it's a relatively straightforward and time-honoured tale, but it was told very well. You've brought up an
Slumdog Millionaire was a really good film. I got completely into it and swept up by it, and wherever the story went it seemed the audience in the theater I was in willingly followed. It had a certain kind of intangible magic, something that struck a chord real deep, and it was fun to go along for the ride. You really got emotionally invested in Jamal, Salim and Latika's stories, and yes, it's a relatively straightforward and time-honoured tale, but it was told very well. You've brought up an interesting point in its exoticising of India, and there was the whole "poverty porn" thing where people were saying it somehow made squalor look visually interesting and that was wrong. "The aesthetics of the pathetic", it was also called. The atmosphere of the film is extremely magnetic, the smoky, over-populated Mumbai slums in stark contrast to the slick Millionaire studio and the hectic, modern atmosphere of the call center. This movie was a near-perfect blend of style, heart and soul, an all-encompassing movie-going experience that frankly was very refreshing.
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9:15PM on 08/08/2012
The problem I see in your argument here is that you claim it to be a fairy tale, but are then bashing it for not being more realistic. It's one or the other, not both. Being more realistic would have stopped it from being a fairy tale, so I don't get the problem there.
The problem I see in your argument here is that you claim it to be a fairy tale, but are then bashing it for not being more realistic. It's one or the other, not both. Being more realistic would have stopped it from being a fairy tale, so I don't get the problem there.
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10:29AM on 08/09/2012
What I was trying to articulate, and my apologies if it was unclear, was the idea that SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE spent a great deal of its time sloppily switching between poverty porn, realism, and fairy tale sensibility, only to wrap up as a fairy tale seemingly for the sake of sweet convenience.
What I was trying to articulate, and my apologies if it was unclear, was the idea that SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE spent a great deal of its time sloppily switching between poverty porn, realism, and fairy tale sensibility, only to wrap up as a fairy tale seemingly for the sake of sweet convenience.
6:34PM on 08/08/2012
I thought the movie was good. I can't really say what makes it stand out from the rest, but I'd agree w/ the post below that the competition that year wasn't anything special. Was there a more deserving movie that year that I'm failing to remember?
I thought the movie was good. I can't really say what makes it stand out from the rest, but I'd agree w/ the post below that the competition that year wasn't anything special. Was there a more deserving movie that year that I'm failing to remember?
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9:28PM on 08/08/2012
Umm....The Dark Knight? or WALL-E?? These 2 are the reasons they have 9-10 picture nominees now.
Umm....The Dark Knight? or WALL-E?? These 2 are the reasons they have 9-10 picture nominees now.
6:22PM on 08/08/2012
I thought it was overall a good movie with good performances. Did it deserve best picture, I don't know. Much like the Artist, I think it won b/c it was "different" and no real other major competition rather than winning for the strength of the film itself.
I thought it was overall a good movie with good performances. Did it deserve best picture, I don't know. Much like the Artist, I think it won b/c it was "different" and no real other major competition rather than winning for the strength of the film itself.
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3:22PM on 08/08/2012
I completely thought this movie was overhyped and overbuzzed. I did not get all the noise about this movie and still do not. Don't get me wrong it is a fairly average movie, but Boyle has done better; in fact, minus the reader, all the other best picture choices were much better movies.
I completely thought this movie was overhyped and overbuzzed. I did not get all the noise about this movie and still do not. Don't get me wrong it is a fairly average movie, but Boyle has done better; in fact, minus the reader, all the other best picture choices were much better movies.
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1:09PM on 08/08/2012

Agreed

Didn't understand the hype/buzz. Pretty bored throughout this film. Boyle has delivered far superior films. This is def. one of the "Worst" Best Picture Winners there is.
Didn't understand the hype/buzz. Pretty bored throughout this film. Boyle has delivered far superior films. This is def. one of the "Worst" Best Picture Winners there is.
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1:08PM on 08/08/2012

Agreed

Didn't understand the hype/buzz. Pretty bored throughout this film. Boyle has delivered far superior films. This is def. one of the "Worst" Best Picture Winners there is.
Didn't understand the hype/buzz. Pretty bored throughout this film. Boyle has delivered far superior films. This is def. one of the "Worst" Best Picture Winners there is.
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12:29PM on 08/08/2012
lets see:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

those were the nominees for best picture in 2008. aside from benjamin button, which apparently gets more general hate than slumdog, i dont see any real competition. benjamin button is one of my all time favorites, but i knew even then that it wasnt going to win, because it is so polarizing. slumdog was the feel good underdog that year with no competition, of course it was going to win.

but
lets see:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Frost/Nixon
Milk
The Reader
Slumdog Millionaire

those were the nominees for best picture in 2008. aside from benjamin button, which apparently gets more general hate than slumdog, i dont see any real competition. benjamin button is one of my all time favorites, but i knew even then that it wasnt going to win, because it is so polarizing. slumdog was the feel good underdog that year with no competition, of course it was going to win.

but yea, hindsight, it isnt as good as some of the other best picture winners, but honestly, ever since crash won best picture in 2005, ive lost all faith and respect for the oscars.
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1:09PM on 08/08/2012
Milk or The Reader were 2 films that should have taken the crown my friend.
Milk or The Reader were 2 films that should have taken the crown my friend.
9:49PM on 08/08/2012
Milk was waaayy better, I would say.
Milk was waaayy better, I would say.
12:17PM on 08/08/2012
I thought the movie was okay. I was entertained by it, so I can't complain that much, but it never particularly moved me.
I thought the movie was okay. I was entertained by it, so I can't complain that much, but it never particularly moved me.
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11:04AM on 08/08/2012
This movie was good, but I remember walking out of the theather and thinking "It's definitely NOT best picture." I'm still a bit puzzled over the hype this movie got.
This movie was good, but I remember walking out of the theather and thinking "It's definitely NOT best picture." I'm still a bit puzzled over the hype this movie got.
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10:09AM on 08/08/2012
I never connected with this film from the get-go. Going in I expected (after reading a couple of reviews) the flashbacks, showing how he knew the answer to each question, to be funny, clever, heart-warming, magical etc. etc. The first two flashbacks came through but it just went downhill from there.

The third question about what God Rama holds in his in hand, he knows the answer because during a fucking massacre coincidentally a little girl dressed as Rama runs by, stops before him and then
I never connected with this film from the get-go. Going in I expected (after reading a couple of reviews) the flashbacks, showing how he knew the answer to each question, to be funny, clever, heart-warming, magical etc. etc. The first two flashbacks came through but it just went downhill from there.

The third question about what God Rama holds in his in hand, he knows the answer because during a fucking massacre coincidentally a little girl dressed as Rama runs by, stops before him and then runs off again. Sadly the flashbacks became less about how he knew the answers but more about preaching about the rights and wrongs and such of India.

And don't even get me started on the last question which has to be the most difficult one. And it's "What is the name of the 3rd musketeer?" Get the fuck out of here.

I don't fault Danny Boyle one bit, the movie looks and sounds tremendous. The fault is with the weak script. Sadly at the Oscars it was just another case of Shakespeare in Love.
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10:05AM on 08/08/2012
Never saw this movie. I didn't get all the hype it had even after the Oscars. I will check it out eventually, but it was one that never really caught my attention.
Never saw this movie. I didn't get all the hype it had even after the Oscars. I will check it out eventually, but it was one that never really caught my attention.
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7:33AM on 08/08/2012

Its only natural

To HATE this film now. At the very beginning when it was still a little independent film without any stars or a large budget, this film was quickly becoming the film to cherish (I remember the very first time I heard of this film is when a veeery glowing JoBlo review gave it a 9 or 10), the proof of one's versatile & respectable taste about loving a little known indie film ("I like arthouse indie movies, not just big budget blockbusters..." etc etc). But then, somehow that little indie movie,
To HATE this film now. At the very beginning when it was still a little independent film without any stars or a large budget, this film was quickly becoming the film to cherish (I remember the very first time I heard of this film is when a veeery glowing JoBlo review gave it a 9 or 10), the proof of one's versatile & respectable taste about loving a little known indie film ("I like arthouse indie movies, not just big budget blockbusters..." etc etc). But then, somehow that little indie movie, unlike other "still safe to love" indie films, got BIG with 150M domestic gross and 8 oscars. So to the internet community the film had gone "mainstream" and it was not that "cool" to like this movie anymore. And thus begin the inevitable backlash of any movie that reached to the top. You know, "A film either die as underrated, or live long enough to see it become overrated".

P.S. Alejandro, I'm not saying you're hating it because it is "less cool" to like this film now, but lets face it, the way everyone's behaving toward this film in last couple of years (starkly contrasting of 2008 / 2009), it is the general truth.
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7:48AM on 08/08/2012
Nice points, Nightwalker.

That being said, I'm actually one of the only people I know who doesn't like this film. At least insofar as "people I've physically spoken to." We'll see what other comments get posted up here as the day goes on, and perhaps the backlash has indeed come back against this film as you say, but to my current knowledge my opinion is actually something of a distinct anomaly amongst my friends and acquaintances.
Nice points, Nightwalker.

That being said, I'm actually one of the only people I know who doesn't like this film. At least insofar as "people I've physically spoken to." We'll see what other comments get posted up here as the day goes on, and perhaps the backlash has indeed come back against this film as you say, but to my current knowledge my opinion is actually something of a distinct anomaly amongst my friends and acquaintances.
9:03AM on 08/08/2012
I should add that I'm from Bangladesh, which is a small country just beside India. We grew up with all those Indian "song & dance" movies and thats why SLUMDOG was nothing exceptionally "new" to us. But still, a good movie is always a good movie, and to most of my friends and families (who had more experience with Indian / South Asian cinema than western movies), this is generally a very HIGHLY REGARDED and lovable film (even to my ma who almost never watch Hollywood cinema). So you see, when I
I should add that I'm from Bangladesh, which is a small country just beside India. We grew up with all those Indian "song & dance" movies and thats why SLUMDOG was nothing exceptionally "new" to us. But still, a good movie is always a good movie, and to most of my friends and families (who had more experience with Indian / South Asian cinema than western movies), this is generally a very HIGHLY REGARDED and lovable film (even to my ma who almost never watch Hollywood cinema). So you see, when I was talking about the "backlash of Slumdog" (like Forrest Gump, or Nolan's TDK Trilogy) it is mostly in the Internet Community unlike the general mass, where I didn't find almost any negativity. Well like you, atleast to "people I've physically spoken to."
3:07AM on 08/08/2012
JAI HO! (That is all)
JAI HO! (That is all)
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3:03AM on 08/08/2012
I never enjoyed this film. I think I came to it very late on, maybe a year after it's release, by that time after all the oscars and positive word of mouth my expectations were ridiculously high, so that may be part of it, but I just never really connected with it or felt much for the characters and was generally bored. It's highly possible that I'm dead inside.
I never enjoyed this film. I think I came to it very late on, maybe a year after it's release, by that time after all the oscars and positive word of mouth my expectations were ridiculously high, so that may be part of it, but I just never really connected with it or felt much for the characters and was generally bored. It's highly possible that I'm dead inside.
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+4
2:16AM on 08/08/2012
I remember liking Slumdog Millionaire when I saw it however there were some questionable parts. Like when you do well on a game show in India, is it standard operating procedure to get dragged to a police station, accused of cheating, and beaten within an inch of your life even before the game show has finished taping?
I remember liking Slumdog Millionaire when I saw it however there were some questionable parts. Like when you do well on a game show in India, is it standard operating procedure to get dragged to a police station, accused of cheating, and beaten within an inch of your life even before the game show has finished taping?
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+3
2:04AM on 08/08/2012

haha I think this movie is great

but as of late, especially around MFC it seems like everyone's hating/disliking this movie, so in terms of that Alejandro I think this one may be the Popular Opinion around these parts!
but as of late, especially around MFC it seems like everyone's hating/disliking this movie, so in terms of that Alejandro I think this one may be the Popular Opinion around these parts!
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