Resistance Is Futile

Millions

In Danny Boyle’s Millions, a bag of money literally bounces along the ground and lands in the unquestioning hands of a young boy named Damian (Alex Etel, cute as can be and a naturally authentic performer). The total: several hundred thousand English pounds.

He and his older brother face a quandary. The Euro is set to replace the pound in just a few days, which would render their fantastic find worthless. They spend some of the money, but Damian wants to give it away.

The plan has a few problems. For one thing, the money came from somewhere, and chances are excellent that somebody is looking for it. For another thing, kids handing out wads of cash are likely to be targets of suspicion on several fronts. But Damian is a kid, and he doesn’t have the benefit of foresight. So he takes a bunch of poor people out for a pizza party, drops a load of bills in the charity robot at school, and sends out letters to people who might need his help.

Yes, Damian is a noble, innocent, naïve little boy.

Put another way: He is cloying, and damned near unbearable.

He sees saints, for instance, and asks them whether they’ve run into a relatively new member of their class, a certain Saint Maureen. As you might guess, she is the boy’s mother, deceased.

I fought Millions for as long as I could. But in the end, it won. It’s a charming little movie that casts magical realism as the mind of a child. Perhaps the sweetest thing about children is their ability to not only accept the improbable — saints, money falling from the sky — but the unpleasant. While most adults see a homeless person and recoil, Anthony sees an opportunity for charity. Millions has a generosity of spirit that’s infectious.

So, yes, the movie is sweet and whimsical, but that’s balanced by its levels of observance and grounded, everyday detail — particularly in the character of the boys’ father, Ronnie (James Nesbitt). Exasperated, grieving, and loving, he is an idealized figure, but in a worn, slightly damaged way, like a dog-eared paperback book; when one of his boys climbs into bed with him, Ronnie first has to move the pillows that he’s arranged in the form of his dead wife.

The movie, unconvincingly, concerns itself with ethics and moral relativism — its tagline is “Can anyone be truly good?” — but it remains a trifle. The most provocative thing about it are the people and motivations behind it.

The film succeeds on its own terms, but its creators almost seem to be responding to a challenge. Boyle’s credits include such family-friendly fare as Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, and 28 Days Later. The screenwriter, Frank Cottrell Boyce, seems to pride himself on literate, adult work and is a frequent collaborator with Michael Winterbottom. These guys are, to say the least, an odd pair to be making this movie.

The cynic in me thinks Millions is an exercise in pandering, that the filmmakers loaded it up with as many trite, manipulative, hoary, unlikely, and “magical” themes and motifs as they could, seeing how much sugar they could dump on the thing and still make it work. It’s a lot of sugar, but it does work.

Wallace and Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

While Millions was impossible to resist, the feature debut of the claymation duo Wallace and Gromit was easy. Impossible to dislike, yes, but not hard to dismiss.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It’s smart, funny, silly, clever, and gorgeous, full of visual and verbal gags running the gamut from adult (the duo’s Anti-Pesto bunny-control service) to juvenile (playing off the dual meaning of the word “moon”). Yet like 2000’s Chicken Run — both were co-directed by Nick Park — the missing ingredient is pretty obvious: a heart.

I love that Wallace and Gromit is not remotely sentimental. What I don’t love is that it’s not just dry; it has no emotional content whatsoever. That doesn’t detract from its achievements in the areas of wit or cinema; it only means that it left me almost immediately after it was over.

More damningly, it results in a movie that feels genuinely disconnected from anything human. Like Terry Gilliam and David Lynch at their most outré, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has a discomfiting foreign texture. That’s cool with Gilliam and Lynch — who are arguably speaking about and to alienation — but it’s odd for a G-rated film involving a cheese-loving inventor, his loyal dog, and a giant bunny.

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