Tuesday, March 10, 2009


"Slumdog," which swept the major categories at the Academy Awards, fascinates on a number of levels. Is it a drama? Is it a fantasy? Is it a musical?


The editing, cinematography, and music (by M.I.A. and A.R. Rahman) all shine. Then there's the fresh-faced cast of unknowns from another land that seems to have captured America's fancy in true Beatle-esque fashion. Then we have the rags-to-riches plot.

Jamal Malik (Dev Patel) is an orphan who, through an improbable twist of fate, finds himself a contestant on India's version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Through a series of amazing coincidences, he has LIVED the answers to the questions that are being posed to him on the show. (This is where your "willing suspension of disbelief" will come in handy.) The momentum builds as Malik embarks on a harrowing damsel-in-distress search for his childhood friend while running afoul of the smarmy game show host and the authorities who aren't convinced he's legitimately coming up with the correct answers.

The film builds to a fist pumping climax that gave me goose bumps and made me feel the same way I felt the first time I saw Rocky. And frankly, with the current state of the economy and Rush Limbaugh bellowing that he wants Barack Obama to fail, we could use more films like this one that connect us with the indomitable human spirit.



Brad Pitt is Benjamin Button, a man who is born as an ugly 80 year old infant and then proceeds to grow younger and much better looking because, after all, it IS Brad Pitt. Trust me, seeing Brad Pitt's head on the body of a midget as Benjamin's metamorphosis unfolds is nearly worth the price of admission.

About two-thirds of the way through, it ocurred to me that this film was hauntingly reminiscent of Forrest Gump. Both Forrest and Benjamin travel around and have lots of unusual experiences; each has a love interest that involves an on again-off again relationship, and both films contain lots of homespun philosophy. I later learned that the screenplay for both films was written by the same guy, (Eric Roth) and high-fived myself for picking up on it before the fact.

The real sweetness of this film revolves around Benjamin's love interest (Cate Blanchett) who sarts the movie as a little girl, aging normally while Benjamin does his bass-ackwards thing, and it becomes evident that at some pivotal moment in time they are going to meet again and become lovers--which just goes to show that, as they say in comedy, timing is everything.

Perhaps what's MOST curious about Benjamin Button is that several people are aware of his reverse aging, but aren't taking great pains to hide it from anyone, so don't you think that sooner or later the feds would get word of it--grab him, and lock him up so they could study him for the rest of his life? But then, there would go your movie. (And if the dog hadn't stopped to pee, he'd have caught the rabbit.) Philosophically speaking, if we all aged backwards, what a world it would be. YOUNG people with all the knowledge and wisdom of a lifetime...actually showing some respect for their elders!

I do believe that had it been a year when "Slumdog Mania" did not exist, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, nominated for a slew of academy awards but only garnering a few relatively minor Oscars, would have scored many more.

Timing is everything.