If you met Slumdog Millionaire at a party, she’d be beautiful and smart, and you’d be able to tell that she likes you. You’d find out that you both love movies with subtitles and you both adore kids, and before long you realize that you haven’t met anyone you’ve enjoyed so much in a very long time.
If you met Slumdog Millionaire at a party, she’d be beautiful and smart, and you’d be able to tell that she likes you. You’d be interested. You’d chat a little and drink a little more. “I don’t know though,” you’d think, when it was maybe 11:45 or so, and she’d enthusiastically played her second straight M.I.A. song in a row when honestly everyone else you know has been overexposedly sick of Paper Planes for months. “She’s kind of goofy.” But you find out that you both love movies with subtitles and you both adore kids, and she starts joking around about obscure (in America) Bollywood actors, and before long you realize that you haven’t met anyone you’ve enjoyed so much in a very long time.
Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, who looks like a kid but actually kind of is 18) is in trouble. He managed to correctly answer almost all of the questions in the Hindi-language version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (it does exist, although not since 2007 from what I can tell), but is suspected of fraud for doing so.
To try to explain how he knows the answer to so many esoteric questions despite being a poor kid from the Mumbai slums, Jamal is forced to tell his life story. And, naturally, the life story is a particularly interesting one that happens to coincidentally intersect with the exact sorts of information a trivia show might want to ask about.
For those of us who have been mercilessly crushed by the Governor’s School on local television during our formative years (tune in to CBS 6 on February 14 at 10 a.m. to see four brave souls from L. C. Bird join that lonely, unhappy club), the whole thing almost makes us wish we had chucked our happy, suburban existences for the extreme poverty of the Mumbai underclass if it had meant earning more than 10 points for knowing which popular snack food goes best with RC Cola.
Which is, of course, a joke. It would be tough to wish on anybody a few of the terrible things that kid endured, but each entirely real-seeming triumph and disaster only pulled the audience further into the plot. Slumdog Millionaire is the first time in a long time that I’ve felt a movie theater audience get so audibly emotionally involved in a drama.
The aforementioned double dose of M.I.A. wasn’t a joke, though, and there were a few concessions to sentimentality that did pull me out of the movie a bit in parts. By insisting on using inexperienced underexposed actors to get the look he wanted, director Danny Boyle does leave us with inexperienced actors. And having to hunt around the screen for the damn subtitles is sometimes annoying, if only because you spend mental energy trying to decide if the where’s-waldo stylized subtitles are annoying or not. Half of the people reading this review will be bothered by these things, by an average of one star.
It didn’t really bother me, though, which is why by the time the movie really starts cracking along in its final act, I was fully engaged, and there were even parts where a less hard-nosed and unsentimental movie reviewer than yours truly might have gotten something caught in his eye.