Thursday, January 15, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire

Every once in a while, a movie comes out that everyone loves. It’s so great that even the slightest diss gets you a dirty look. How could you not love it? Seinfeld captures this with perfection in The English Patient episode. Everyone adores The English Patient except for Elaine. When she complains about the movie, people act as if she’s crazy. She doesn’t like The English Patient so nobody likes her.

Slumdog Millionaire is The English Patient of 2009. I left the theater confused; not about the story line, but instead, about what I would say to friends who asked me for my review. I feared being honest, and thus being hated just like Elaine.

I discovered that the best way to avoid the conflict was to focus on specific details. For example, when I was asked for my opinion about Slumdog, I stated how much I liked the music. The other party assumed that I loved the movie and left me alone. The truth is that I did like the music, but the movie didn’t really do it for me.

Yes, I enjoyed the love story since I’m a hopeless romantic. And the movie was told in a clever and unique way (each question on the game show reveals a new portion of the main character’s life.) But overall, I thought Slumdog was only OK. But I don’t blame the movie. I blame the people around me for irresponsible reviewing.

Irresponsible Reviewing

Definition #1: The reviewer bases his/her review from only one source

People always react when they hear a movie title: “I heard this was great” or “This is supposed to be terrible.” When that person is asked for a source, he/she reveals that they overheard it from someone at the bus stop, their pizza delivery guy, or they read one article in a newspaper. Why would that one suggestion make such an impact? Is the pizza guy really that smart? It makes even less sense when there are hundreds of other professional reviews accessible on sites like This is just plain irresponsible.

Definition #2: When someone recommends a movie, but is extremely vague with their description

For example, someone could say that The Matrix is a great movie. But in order to be a responsible reviewer, they need to include details like “It’s a cool sci-fi movie with awesome action scenes.” Now I know—if I like action/sci-fi movies, I will really enjoy this. There are lots of great movies: Schindler’s List, Annie Hall, Back to the Future, Big, Naked Gun, Wayne’s World, Sneakers---but the key point is that they’re all very different. If you go into the theater with the wrong mindset, your viewing might not be so enjoyable.

Definition #3: Overhyping

I was once introduced to a girl as “the funniest person of ALL TIME.” She looked at me, and I didn’t know what to do. Should I tell a joke? Make a face? Juggle? There was way too much pressure. Instead, I froze and shrugged my shoulders uncomfortably. She must’ve thought: “He’s not so funny.” So when countless people hype up a movie, you will always be disappointed.

Slumdog Millionaire

So with Slumdog Millionaire, all I heard was that this was the greatest movie ever (irresponsible reviewing definition #3) and that was it. Was it funny? Was it cute? Was it powerful? I didn’t know because no further details were ever given to me (irresponsible reviewing definition #2.) And the plotline, a kid on a game show, didn’t give much away. All I heard from numerous sources was: “Just see it and you’ll love it!” (#2 and #3) In retrospect, I wish I had known a lot more.

Slumdog Millionaire tackles topics like: torture, murder, suicide, poverty, child torture, corruption, rape, prostitution, child prostitution, and did I mention torture. The next time someone says that Slumdog is a great movie, the responsible reviewer must follow with something like: “It’s very intense,” “It’s very dark.” or “It’s very powerful.” And they should never say: “It’s the best movie ever!”

To me, it felt like I was watching the news or a war movie. At some points, I felt uncomfortable in my seat and had to turn away. This doesn’t mean that Slumdog was a bad movie. It just meant I wasn’t prepared for the somber story line.

So I didn’t love Slumdog Millionaire. You guys can hate me, call me crazy, and when it wins the Oscar for best picture, tell me I’m the worst. All I ask is that you do so responsibly.


Pam said...

Paul, thanks for speaking up and putting a name on the face of this terrible travesty. I didn't like it either.

T-Bone said...

You should go see "The Wrestler". It's the greatest movie ever! (My barista at Starbucks said so!)

Comic Book Guy said...

Worst review ever!

Elizabeth Brady said...


Your explanations made me laugh because they were right on. I loved Slumdog Millionaire but I speak Hindi, have spent time doing work in India and had just finished the equally hyped Man Booker prize winning novel "The White Tiger" for a book review. The book was quite dark and compared to it, and to the realities of North India, Slumdog Millionaire was a fairytale. It was a treat to see someone break a cycle I knew was nearly impossible to survive.

When I told my parents about the movie however I said this, "Its a dark film, its very sad and while the good things are magical, the bad things are in my experience completely accurate. Its not exaggerated for the film. Life there is that bad for some people. Be prepared to cry and cringe."

Good for you inciting more responsible reviews, and thanks for your comment about my recent article in the Daily.

Mike said...

Slumdog Millionnaire is a very beautiful film, I absolutely loved it.

John said...

your right on the spot..all i heard was how great this movie was..I was out having dinner 2 nights ago and someone next to me just said it's the best movie ever..and with the oscar buzz and winning the golden globes and hearing how great it was I was expecting something more..yes it was very intense..yes I thought the music was great..but I pretty much thought that was it..I kinda liked the part showing a lot of India that I did not know existed and knowing how the telemarketers are lined when we call companies in the usa..that was nice to know..but pretty much yes it definitely is not the best movie ever..I guess it depends on what year because Shawshank Redemption was considered the best movie ever but unfortunatelyit was stacked up against Titanic that year so it was in a way overylooked..if you compare both ..Shawshank or Slumdog? Shawshank takes the cake anyday.. but yes to anyone that wants to see was very very intense and Iwas getting dizzy a little from all the chasing around and running andthe kids are adorable great acting..the adults??? not so the way this is my first post for anything so I guess I am going on and on..take care

Randall Bobbitt said...

The only probably with your analogy is that I have NEVER met ANYONE that thought the English Patient was good. But.. I feel the same way about Juno that you do about Slum Dog.... I can't stand it.