As Cami pointed out, we finally got around to seeing one of the five Best Picture nominees this weekend: Slumdog Millionaire.

I’ve been kind of wrestling with this movie a little bit. Like Cami, I thought the performances were winning and the child actors in particular were amazing. I thought it was well directed, tense at times and very engaging. But it didn’t quite make my heart soar like all everyone said it would.

It was difficult for me to get caught up in the movie’s tale of star-crossed lovers because the film does not pull any punches in it’s depiction of India’s poverty, squalor and corruption. Maybe this is the wrong thing to focus on, but it left me feeling guilty for accepting the story as entertainment. I left the theater thinking about what I could do to help.

I’m not completely naive. I have heard about orphaned children being maimed and put on the street to beg. But later I became conflicted and started to wonder if the movie was promoting some kind of stereotype. Isn’t India one of the largest growing business centers in the world? What about their advances in education?

Turns out I’m not alone. Time Magazine recently published an article that tackles the same question.

I know it’s not fair to ask one movie to provide a thorough examination of the social and economic strata of the entire sub-continent. Especially when it only wants to tell the story of two people. I mean, I doubt non-American audiences watch movies like Goodfellas and assume that the country is overrun by gangsters. I’m just saying it was a distraction, that’s all.

Slumdog Millionaire is a good movie. Experty assembled and told with an effective time-bending narrative. Will it make you shoot rainbows out of your eyes after you see it? Well, in my case it didn’t. In that respect, it didn’t live up to the hype. Ignore the critics and commercials and see it with reasonable expectations and you’ll have a good time.

EDIT: Here is a another article written by Slate’s Dennis Lim that confronts Slumdog Millonaire’s confounding moral compass. Lim says a few things more acutely than I could in my review.

If Slumdog has struck a chord, and it certainly seems to have done so in the West, it is not because the film is some newfangled post-globalization hybrid but precisely because there is nothing new about it. It traffics in some of the oldest stereotypes of the exoticized Other: the streetwise urchin in the teeming Oriental city… And not least for American audiences, it offers the age-old fantasy of class and economic mobility, at a safe remove that for now may be the best way to indulge in it.

Slumdog has been so insistently hyped as an uplifting experience (“the feel-good film of the decade!” screams the British poster) that it is also, by now, a movie that pre-empts debate. It comes with a built-in, catchall defense—it’s a fairy tale, and any attempt to engage with it in terms of, say, its ethics or politics gets written off as political correctness.

A slippery and self-conscious concoction, Slumdog has it both ways. It makes a show of being anchored in a real-world social context, then asks to be read as a fantasy.

Food for thought.