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Review: The magic sputters in 'Midnight's Children'

Salman Rushdie's sprawling, metaphorical novel turns disappointingly literal in its film adaptation.

May 02, 2013|By Robert Abele
  • A scene from "Midnight's Children."
A scene from "Midnight's Children." (Handout )

Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize-winning 1980 novel "Midnight's Children" is many things — ambitious, chaotic, fantastical, mythic — but generic it isn't. Which makes the long-awaited film version a real head-scratcher, a pretty but staidly linear epic drained of the novel's larkish, metaphorical sweep, and a collection of multi-generational love stories lacking their originally eccentric, fizzy charm.

It was perhaps a fool's errand to try to tame Rushdie's stylistically bold, time-juggling bildungsroman, which weaves India's 20th century growing pains with those of the magical, telepathic children born at the moment of its independence (midnight, Aug. 15, 1947). But self-adapter Rushdie (who narrates) and director Deepa Mehta certainly try.

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Some scenarios transfer well as basic exercises in odd/funny or heartwarming: There's a male doctor-female patient courtship through a sheet with a cut-out hole, and hero Saleem Sinai's boyhood scrapes with a Pakistani general. Not to mention the scenes of Bombay home life with Shahana Goswami as Saleem's mother and Seema Biswas as the family's sweet, guilt-ridden ayah, who commits a rash nursery action that seals the fate of infant Saleem.

The overall effect, though, is of a flavorless feast, with the movie's few mystical leaps clunkily handled. It's the kind of irony a bard of tumult like Rushdie might appreciate: Where his roller coaster of a read thrillingly evokes the cinematic, the movie version feels regrettably literal.

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"Midnight's Children." Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes. No MPAA rating. Playing: at ArcLight Hollywood, Laemmle Royal, Laemmle Town Center 5, Laemmle Playhouse 7

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