Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Genre hopping has always been Danny Boyle’s trademark but with Slumdog Millionaire he’s pushed the envelope further than ever before, taking (essentially) a love story, wrapping it up in television game show, and delivering it via a kaleidoscopic travelogue of India’s colorful city of contrasts, Mumbai.  That all of this works, flawlessly, beautifully, is a testament to the director who appears to have learned a few things about shooting in a foreign country (The Beach, shot in Thailand, was a disaster from a production standpoint), especially in terms of trimming back his crew to a mere dozen and relying on the plentiful local talent to handle the logistics (his India-based casting director, Loveleen Tandan, was so essential to the finished product that Boyle unselfishly gave her a co-director credit).  Slumdog‘ tells the looks-like-it-could-be-true story (but isn’t) of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a kid from the slums of Mombai, who becomes the highest-grossing winner on the Hindi version of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? Flashbacks serve to inform us just how, exactly, he knew the answers to the questions asked of him (the local police arrest him mid-show, accusing him of cheating), from his early childhood experiences to the present day (three actors play Malik, his brother Salim, and Latika, the love of his life, throughout the film).  Initially not interested in a story about  the popular TV show, Boyle read a dozen or so pages when he saw the name on the script (Simon Beaufoy, screenwriter of The Full Monty) and was hooked.  Slumdog Millionaire, however, is in a different class altogether.  Kinetic editing, driving music, creative use of subtitles (for the Hindi segments), wonderful performances, and a fresh, dynamic sense of time and place make it a delight from start to (happy Bollywood) finish.  It’s an instant classic!

(c) 2008 David N. Butterworth

Rachel Getting Married (2008)


Anne Hathaway has never really done much for me. Probably the first time I remember seeing her was in The Princess Diaries (although she’d been in 13 episodes of Get Real on TV before that, playing a character named Meghan Green). I didn’t exactly notice her in ‘Diaries, since that film was such a rags-to-riches dog, and the very doggishness of the entire production tended to distract one from whatever Hathaway might have contributed to the piece, good or bad.
     She was in The Devil Wears Prada, of course, but again so obviously upstaged by Meryl Streep (channeling Glenn Close’s Cruella De Vil) that, as a result, she kind of slunk into the background also. I did notice her breasts in “Brokeback Mountain” and remembered being woefully disappointed by that. I mean, I understand that Ang Lee’s a cool director an’ all but even so… As far as I remember that scene in the pick-up truck didn’t necessitate toplessness. A brassiere would’ve just as easily sufficed.
     Now Ms. Hathaway is starring, front and center, in Jonathan Demme’s new feature Rachel Getting Married and she’s hard not to notice. And I mean that in a good way—a very good way.
     Hathaway sports a dyed black crop as Kym, nine months free of abusing substances and released from rehab in time for her sister Rachel’s upcoming nuptials. Unconditional love and acceptance here we come—not! Chain-smoking her sorry way through life, Kym feels the disapproval and embarrassment of her family at every turn, and attempts to make amends (the 12-step way) via a poorly received Maid of Honor speech. But, as she points out, being Mother Theresa wouldn’t exactly satisfy her clan.
     As events unfold we learn the whys and the wherefores of Kym’s hospitalization, her parents divorce (her somewhat distant mother is played by Debra Winger in a scarily real performance), her sister’s disappointment. “Scarily real,” in fact, describes Rachel Getting Married to a tee.
     Director Demme shoots most everything with a dispassionate hand-held camera that evokes the fine Danish drama The Celebration, which centered around a family reunion not unlike this one, captured the tense, dramatic events via a natural filmmaking style, and featured an actor, Ulrich Thomsen, who looks not unlike Bill Irwin here (Irwin plays the patriarch and his is a fine performance too, as is Rosemarie DeWitt’s as the eponymous Rachel).
     This cinema verité approach of Demme’s is so convincing it’s often hard to remember we’re watching a fictionalized drama (the recent Margot at the Wedding tackled similar dysfunctional family themes with less successful results). The wedding dinner scene, during which many a toast is proffered, is a striking example of how this talented director applies his chosen technique.
     Demme also has a knack for drawing out fine performances (see: The Silence of the Lambs) and Hathaway is the best she’s been. Self-absorbed and narcissistic, Kym is not intrinsically likable but Hathaway ditches her own lightweight image by bringing out her character’s emotional core. Credit should also go to Jenny Lumet (daughter of veteran director Sydney Lumet), whose finely realized screenplay neither skirts nor overplays the issues.
     Rachel gets married, but it’s Anne who gets the cred.

(c) 2008 David N. Butterworth