“But Jamal, what will we live on?” “Love.” (No, really. That’s an actual exchange from the movie.)
It’s a good thing Slumdog Millionaire is set in India, otherwise more people might notice what a wildly implausible, hokey, cornball cartoon it is. The scenery is nice, but the story is pointless unless you desperately needed to hear that LOVE CONQUERS ALL and YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW YOUR DESTINY, BECAUSE AFTER ALL, IT’S YOUR DESTINY. It’s the kind of feel-good garbage that only feels good if you check your brain at the door, a candy apple filled with shit.
Here’s the plot: Jamal Malik is one question away from winning the grand prize on the Hindi version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, an unprecedented feat. When we catch up with him, he’s in the proverbial back room getting worked over by some guys who want to know how a slum orphan with no education can succeed where doctors, lawyers, and professors have all failed. The answer should be obvious: Because he’s in a stupid f-cking movie (they think he’s cheating). They slap, punch, and electrocute him, which will become a metaphor for the way the filmmakers treat their audience. Who do these guys work for? The police? The show? Why would they want Jamal to fail? It doesn’t matter, they’re bad guys. Everyone in Slumdog Millionaire is either a good guy or a bad guy and there’s no room for grey area or, God forbid, motivation.
Eventually Jamal and his inquisitors go to the tape. They watch Jamal answer the first question, and when they ask how a slumdog like him could’ve known such a thing, we flash back to a traumatic childhood memory in which he painfully learns the answer. This becomes the framework of the entire movie. The hosts asks “Who invented the revolver?” and we flash back to the time when Jamal sees someone killed with a revolver. Besides the structure being corny and repetitive, the events in the flashbacks rarely show how Jamal actually would’ve learned the answers to the questions. Anyone who’s ever fired a revolver knows it shoots bullets, not a giant flag that says, “INVENTED BY SAMUEL COLT IN 1836.” And anyway, what’s the point of this plot device? It offers no more insight than you’d get singing along to Sexy and 17 by the Stray Cats – THERE AIN’T NOTHIN IN SCHOOL THEY DON’T TEACH YOU ON THE STREETS! OH WHOA OH OH OH (FAP FAP FAPPITY FAP FAP). (Great song, btw)
But it doesn’t matter, because winning Millionaire is Jamal’s destiny, you see. The only reason he’s on the show in the first place is to get the attention of Latika, the woman he loves. A fellow orphan, he meets her in a rainstorm when he’s about 8 right after his mother gets killed. And from then on, she’s all he cares about. Why? Again, because it’s a movie. Because in a movie, characters fall in love with the first girl they see and never deviate. Destiny and true love are much easier to write than ways in which two people might conceivably relate. The rest of the movie is just a series of contrived reunions and separations. Jamal gets kidnapped by a guy who blinds orphans with acid to make them better beggars! Latika gets sold into prostitution! Latika’s forced to marry an evil gangster! What, no black market organ harvesters? The slums are filled with good and evil, you see, and ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IN BETWEEN. I would’ve liked to have just gone with the flow, but unfortunately there were no blunt objects under the seat with which to bludgeon myself.
But back to Jamal. He goes on Hindi Millionaire to meet a girl. Okay, fine. He knows all the answers based on lessons learned in the streets. Hmm, that’s a little ridiculous, but okay, I guess someone has to win the lottery. But wait, how did he get on the show in the first place? Considering he’s only one of roughly 8 bajillion people living in India, Jamal making it on the show would seem to be the most dubious plot point, wouldn’t it? Something you’d want to create a plausible explanation for, right? About two thirds of the way into the film, the host finally asks what any intelligent audience member should’ve been thinking, “So, how did a little slumdog like yourself get to be on Who Wants to be a Millionaire, anyway?” This triggers a flashback to Jamal working as an assistant at a call center. Every night, the callers call the Who Wants to be a Millionaire contestant line. And then… that’s it! That’s the entire explanation. Nevermind that the callers we see call never get through, never mind that Jamal is only an assistant who doesn’t even man the phones himself – it was his destiny! Because he was in love! Slumdog Millionaire’s turning points only give you the most half-assed, token explanations because they seem to figure that if they throw enough true love wheels of fate mumbo jumbo at you, you’ll be happy to suspend your disbelief long enough to see two wooden caricatures kiss. It’s cotton candy. Slumdog Millionaire is Love Actually with Indian people. I hated it and I hate all of you.