One question of Oscar night was how some films would look next to events in the real world. Should Slumdog Millionaire be viewed against the backdrop of the Mumbai shootings? How would Milk do in the wake of California's Prop 8? Or would Mickey Rourke's down-on-his-luck Wrestler do well with the unemployment rate nudging up to 7.6 percent?
I have been wondering how the recession affects two films released this month, both of which concern business and finance (broadly construed), and both of which seem to have comically poor timing. (I hasten to add that I haven't seen either film -- I promise to build up the willpower to do so this week -- but that profound lack of real information should only partially weaken the points.)
The first is Confessions of a Shopaholic, an adaptation of the series
of novels of the same name. Based on what I've read, the film's plot
seems to be (1) a recent college graduate gets deep into debt buying a
lot of clothing; (2) she gets a job at a finance magazine by lying
repeatedly about her qualifications; (3) she learns a lesson, finds
true love and pays off the debt, all while avoiding real consequences
and living happily ever after in a fabulous New York apartment. The
producers of this film should have spent their money building a time
machine back to 2006.
Actually, that's about when I imagine Confessions of a Shopaholic was greenlighted, so it's hard to blame the makers for the cultural trainwreck they've now found themselves in. Confessions of a Shopaholic seems like it would have fit the bubble years quite snugly, like a pair of Gucci gloves in a chilly February night. A harder case is The International, Tom Tykwer's thriller about a bank so powerful that it can smuggle weapons, overthrow governments and do all the other sinister things that a sinister international bank would naturally want to do.
Hmmm. On the one hand, our banks are not looking particularly looming or sinister or fearsome (or solvent) at this particular moment in time. If they are going to be overthrowing any governments, it will only be "overthrowing" in the sense that a suicide bomber "overthrows" his local embassy, or the Titanic "overthrew" its thousands of passengers. On the other hand, this is a truly great moment for bank-based schadenfreude. "Sure," we might think, "maybe when all those institutions were busy hoovering up mortgage-backed securities and exchanging credit swaps, they were also trying to overthrow Bolivia!" Let's take away their bonuses, and then send Clive Owen to kick the crap out of their CEOs.
So maybe The International is truly the film of the moment. Banks should suffer! But then again I thought Mickey Rourke would win for best actor.