Sunday, February 08, 2009

Denby on Slumdog

I find myself uncomfortable agreeing with the substance of a David Denby review. Usually I just assume I'll feel the opposite about whatever he thinks. But he sure sums up my criticism of Slumdog Millionaire, which is one reason why he's a professional film critic and I'm not.

The central plot mechanism of “Slumdog Millionaire”—Jamal (Dev Patel), a poor kid from Mumbai, overcomes his ragamuffin past and achieves fame, wealth, and selfhood by answering questions on a high-stakes game show—feels both cheesy and rigid. The movie is a Dickensian fable, but didn’t David Copperfield have to work his way up the ladder? As Jamal thinks over the questions put to him on the show, moments from his early life float through his mind, and some wrenching event delivers the right answer to him. Apart from a nagging implausibility—how could every question link up with an old memory?—I object to the way that the director, Danny Boyle, orchestrates Jamal’s life. Everything is seen in a flash—the boy’s mother is beaten to death, a man is set on fire, tiny goddesses appear out of nowhere—and nothing is prepared, explained, or understood. As slum children, Jamal and his friends are enchantingly beautiful, but the supersaturated color makes not just the kids but every surface and texture shine glamorously, including the piles of garbage that Jamal and his brother live among. Boyle has created what looks like a jumpy, hyper-edited commercial for poverty—he uses the squalor and violence touristically, as an aspect of the fabulous.

Yes, indeed.

Via Ari, who makes fun of Denby's writing a bit. Probably rightfully, but I'm not going there since I'm sure he'd eviscerate my writing.