Monday, January 19, 2009

Any Fool Knows A Dog Needs A Home

I'm more than a little annoyed by the fact that I live in a country where more people would rather see Bride Wars than Slumdog Millionaire. Seriously, America, what the hell is wrong with you? You're all telling me that you'd rather see a movie where Kate Hudson's solution to a bad hair day is to take off her shirt and wrap it around her head just before a big, important meeting? You all really think that watching two idiots wrestling in wedding dresses is a better cinematic experience than a movie that tells a story that is funny, sad, thrilling, depressing, tragic and triumphant? What, did it not get enough four star reviews or make it onto enough Ten Best of the Year lists?

If you can't find where Slumdog Millionaire is playing, just look for the theater where the exiting crowd is made of equal parts cheerful faces and crying eyes. When it opens we meet Jamal Malik (Dev Patel, known to Skins fans as Anwar) at different points in his day. At one point, he's playing the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and getting all the way to the final question. At another, later point in the day, he's being tortured by police because they think he cheated. Their only evidence is that he's an uneducated slumdog whose job it is to get coffee for Indian telemarketers and, according to rigid class prejudices, couldn't possibly have known the answers. Based on those views, he is chained, beaten and electrocuted until he tells them how he knew. He didn't cheat. This was, simply, the luckiest day of his life. Well, up until the "arrested and tortured" part. Jamal was simply asked questions he happened to know which is the way anyone who's ever played a game show manages to win and he tells them about the horrific events in his life that gave him the information he needed to advance as far in the game as he has.

When asked what the god Rama is traditionally seen holding in his right hand, he remembers the day his Islamic village was razed by Hindi extremists, the same day he and his brother, Salim, became orphans, and he happened to see a boy, dressed as Rama, holding a bow and arrow in his right hand. The siblings fell in with an Oliver Twist-like group of orphans trained by a gangster, Mawan, to beg and steal for him. He remembers the day Mawan wanted him to sing a particular song, the day Mawan tried to blind him so that he could earn more money as a beggar, and that was how, when asked who had written the song he sang on that day, he was able to answer that question. And so on and so forth. His miserable life as an Indian street orphan, all the death and sorrow and viciousness that no child should ever have to see, served him well on this one lucky day.

Jamal doesn't care about the money. There are only two things on this planet Jamal cares about. One is his brother, Salim, who falls further and further into a life of crime. The other is a fellow orphan they met as children, a girl named Latika. Jamal and Latika loved each other before they even knew what love was so, in the tradition of great love stories, it seems as if the gods themselves have devoted all their energies to keeping them apart. All through their lives they are separated again and again until Jamal can once again track her down. As I said, he doesn't care about the money. He was just hoping that Latika would be watching and would find him.

I don't want to tell you anymore as it was wonderful going to the movies and not knowing exactly how the movie would end after 15 minutes in. In Hollywood, Jamal and Latika would have been assured a happy ending but, despite the fact that it was written and directed by Englishmen, this is an Indian story and, if you know anything about Indian love stories through the ages, they often end tragically. I'm not saying that's what happens here. I'm saying that, until the movie ended, I didn't know and that was wonderful.

And so I'm back to my original point. Slumdog Millionaire was beaten this week by crap like Hotel For Dogs, Paul Blart: Mall Cop and the execrable Bride Wars. I'm wondering if I'm going to have to read yet another article this year chastising the Academy for being out of touch with the moviegoing audience because they nominate movies like Slumdog Millionaire and not bigger hits like the ones I described above. Even decent hit films, like The Dark Knight or Tropic Thunder, aren't even in the same time zone as Slumdog Millionaire and I liked both of those a lot. In the end, movies like that win awards not because the nominators are out of touch elitists but because they saw these movies whereas "real Americans" like Bob Douchebag and his cousin, Weenie, didn't. They're the kind of guys who write furious posts in comments sections really letting those Hollywood big brains have it for failing to recognize Adam Sandler's genius in Don't Mess With The Zohan. Why the scene where he shoved a fish up his ass alone should net him Best Actor Oscars for the next ten years. If you see Slumdog Millionaire, you'll love it. If you don't love it, you're wrong. If you say, "Hey, that's my opinion," then I will answer, "Your opinion is wrong in the same way it would be wrong if you told me that, in your opinion, 2+2=5."

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