Fans of director Danny Boyle's work will find much to appreciate in his latest film, Slumdog Millionaire, a sweeping, hopeful story about a boy in the slums of India who becomes an instant celebrity after he wins millions on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? ... A screenwriter friend I talked to after last night's sneak screening called Slumdog "Dickensonian" in style, and that's a fairly apt comparison. While Boyle immerses the viewer in the poverty and tragedy of life as an orphan in the slums of Mumbai, he deftly avoids delving into the murky realm of "poverty porn," which treats the lives of those caught in such circumstances gratuitously. ...One has to wonder whether an actual suitcase full of money will come into the plot, or whether we'll have to make do with "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" as a dynamic equivalent.
The heart of the film, though, is the thread of love and friendship between Jamal and another young orphan, Latika, who's befriended by Jamal and gruffly tolerated by his older brother. ... This love story, interwoven throughout the film, lends a classical, metaphorical level to the film that adds depth to its mainstream-audience friendly, accessible surface. ... Jamal does what he has to in order to survive -- when you're five years old, homeless and starving while the adults around you kick you around like a dog for merely trying to scrounge enough to keep from dying, the morality of theft and ownership doesn't really amount to much -- but he never loses his sense of fairness, justice and compassion. ...
There's sadness and tragedy within Slumdog Millionaire -- starvation, genocide, child prostitution and overwhelming oppression -- but there's humor, humanity and dignity as well. ... Slumdog Millionaire is Boyle's best film to date, which is saying quite a lot; He's made a joyous, fun, and wonderfully accessible film that should play well in Toronto before moving on to wider release.
I can't help thinking of ABOUT A BOY, which opens brilliantly with the ubiquitous game show. Also, I'm reminded of a potent radio documentary which profiles one particular contestant on the Irish version of the program, which I heard on NPR's "This American Life." You can download that episode for 95 cents here.