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I’d been eagerly anticipating Slumdog Millionaire for some time.  Normally I try to temper such expectations, but heck, last year Juno would have been my preseason favorite and it ended up one of my top films of the year.  If we catalogued such things, Slumdog Millionaire would have been my preseason pick this year.  Unfortunately, I would have picked incorrectly.

I did like the movie, and I’d feel comfortable recommending it to just about anyone.  Structuring the film around an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire framed things nicely.  Maybe not the most sophisticated of techniques, but one still inspired nonetheless.  Along with Quiz Show, Starter for Ten (like I’ll ever get off that horse), it forms a nice triumvirate of movies with a trivia game show as at least a subplot, and I think I speak for all bar trivia-goers in suggesting that Hollywood would do well to churn out a few more.

Mostly, though, I just don’t have anything to say about the film.  It didn’t affect me as much I thought (or hoped) it would.  The central romance was fine, but I don’t think Simon Beaufoy (the screenwriter) or Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan (the co-directors) did a great job establishing the connection between Jamal and Latika.  A few more shared scenes wouldn’t have hurt, perhaps.  To me, it seems that Jamal longs for Latika because she’s the only girl he’s ever met.  And Latika wants to be with Jamal because…he’s on the outside?  It isn’t entirely clear.

The film doesn’t really have a main character, not if you count current, younger, and youngest Jamal as separate characters.  Which makes for an interesting ensemble.  But, emblematic of the movie as a whole, most of these characters deserve to be better fleshed out.  Jamal’s brother Salim, for example, is barely sketched out in all his incarnations.  And really, Salim’s actions drive the plot at least as much as those of Jamal.  But the reasons for Salim’s pivotal shifts tended to be too subtle.  Latika herself is more of an object for Jamal than a filled-out character.  I did, however, really like the game show host, and thought his character was very well done.

In a nutshell, the movie just felt a little too distant, too hesitant to starkly dive into anything.  I found it too muted to really blow me away.  That’s not to suggest I found the movie anything less than enjoyable.  I just didn’t think it managed to break through and become something special or memorable.

A few side notes:  John and I were wondering if there’s some sort of law requiring Irrfan Khan to be in every movie with a U.S. wide release and is set in India.  Not that it would be a problem, because he’s pretty great.  Just curious.  Also, I think Slumdog Millionaire just adds further proof to the notion that every movie would be better if it added a song and dance number.  And Freida Pinto is really pretty.  Just throwing that out there.

And finally, I’m curious to see if Dev Patel ends up with a Supporting Actor nomination.  Going for him is the movie’s current status as a seeming near-lock to get nominated (and possible favorite status to win the whole shebang) and the lack of any other actor from the movie to nominate.  There’s also a relative dearth of name actors and juicy roles under consideration.  (The Golden Grouches underground campaign for Bill Irwin notwithstanding.)  The catch may be that his is a sort of nontraditional supporting character, in that the movie is really about him.   Additionally, Jamal’s character traits are more those of a main character (likable, gets the girl in the end, plucky, underdog).  Could voters not vote for him, thinking he belongs in the best actor category, and instead go with someone in a more standard supporting role, like James Franco or Eddie Marsan?

The heavy hitters of this year’s Oscars have just started passing through town, so I can’t really compare Slumdog Millionaire to other Oscar bait.  In a sense, I feel the same about the film as I did about The Departed.  Both are perfectly fine movies, but I don’t really understand how anyone could consider them the best of anything.

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