sympathy for mr. boyle
Slumdog Millionaire (2008): Brit director Danny Boyle's latest would be easy to hate not so much for what the movie is - a bouncy, colorful travelogue of Mumbai's back alleys with a silly, condescending boy-meets-girl yarn wrapped loosely around scenes of outdoor toilets, all-night cafes, empty hotels, and train stations - but for who the audience is: the sloppy, cringe-inducing dance number at the end of movie, meant to mirror both the frenetic energy of the first third of the movie as well as pay homage to the Bollywood song-n-dance epics Slumdog unsuccessfully attempts to filter through Boyle's very Western sensibilities, was capped by applause from the Esquire's Friday night crowd; I have to guess that to clap at the end of movie so underserving of an ovation was something they heard on NPR that audiences were doing, and wanted to make sure that other listener-members knew they were hip to the scene.
But whatever. Surprisingly enough for a love fantasy, Slumdog Millionaire ultimately suffers from an excess of plot: Boyle was never very good at resolving the situations his films set up, and his movies tend to screech to a halt when they're required to slow down and deal with stuff like characters talking things out. Trainspotting (1996) and 28 Weeks Later (2003) managed to be so entertaining because Boyle almost never takes his foot off the gas - especially in the latter, there's always a reason to keep looking over your shoulder, and Boyle movies are great fun when you have to sprint along with his characters. And through the first third of Slumdog, there's a lot of excitement (and a whole lot of running), but as the story eases up and we're supposed to settle into sitting and watching someone answer questions on a television game show, the eye and the mind begin to wander. A big problem with Slumdog Millionaire is that Boyle is aping the hallucinatory style of Bollywood film scenarios, but as Pike Bishop pointed out to me afterward, Bollywood pics give everybody - characters, filmmakers, audiences - a chance to dream outlandish dreams. And this unwillingness to allow Slumdog's cast to untether themselves from the oppressiveness of their lives makes the experience intensely patronizing. Boyle is content to keep his characters down in the slums, slumdogs that they are - and the audience too, who I'm sure found all the sights very charming. At the very least, he's given us the opening to every hip-hop album for the next ten years ("Ladies and gentlemen, what a playa!")