Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

Mauling Money Monster

As a Cinema Studies undergrad, falling asleep during films was a pretty common occurence. In a poorly ventilated Carlton theatre, I’d sleep through a litany of titles deemed, curiously, as classics but those… masters… of the discipline.

Nowadays, sleeping in a cinema just seems like a really expensive nap reserved only for films where keeping my eyes open is truly the worse option.

Money Monster. Admittedly I was only out for twenty minutes, but had it been a little less loud, I definitely could have dozed longer.

The film centres on Lee Gates (George Clooney), who is challenging his inner Jim Cramer to bring theatrics - think dancing, costumes and a range of uncomfortable appropriations - to finance television. During a live show Lee gets taken hostage by Kyle (Jack O'Connell), a disgruntled viewer who’d followed a dud stock tip.

A boring film - and one encapsulated in its entirety in the trailer - but with a few pause-for-thought moments, nevertheless.

A topic often discussed in my Gender Studies classes is what happens when women enter professions normally associated with men. Does the military, for example, become softer, gentler and more, say, pillow fight-y, when women join the ranks? Does the advertising industry become less likely to use boobs to sell power tools/cars/alcohol when women design the campaigns? Alternatively, are the rules, the protocols and the indicators of success, so well established that it’s near impossible for women to ever really make much difference?

It’s a complicated topic of which Money Monster provides a pretty good case study. Putting a woman - Jodie Foster - behind the camera didn’t on this occasion, challenge the routinely-deplorable presentations of women at all. Instead, we got two completely underbaked, highly clichéd characters - Julia Roberts as Patty, the long-suffering director/babysitter of Clooney, and Diane (Caitriona Balfe), the Irish mistress of one helluva shady businessman. And of notable dodgy stereotyping was Clooney playing one of film’s greatest cliches: the handsome man-child. Undisciplined, unethical and painfully unoriginal.

So was the film so awful because a woman directed it? Of course not. Could it have been worse if a man made it? Sure, probably. Does Money Monster therefore, demonstrate that gender - akin to race - is sometimes less the trump card than those other factors that get projects greenlit in Hollywood?

A much more interesting question.

Production has relevance here on a second level. A couple of years ago I watched (and wrote about) Channel 10’s Secrets & Lies. I was intrigued that such a dreadfully weak mini-series - about a small town murder of a child - would get produced so soon after the success of the same-plotted (and excellent) Broadchurch. Audiences undoubtedly would compare the two and the Australian facsimile could only ever look crap in comparison. (And then get remade by the Americans because, afterall, who doesn’t love a dead child).

With this in mind, how do we end up with another film about the shortcomings of the economy so soon after the very good (and my to-date 2016 favourite) The Big Short? How did no one anticipate that Money Monster would be viewed, at best, as 2016’s other film about the market and, at worst, as deep a criticism of capitalism as that time Kanye “joined” Occupy Wall Street?

More arresting than Money Monster‘s gossamer-thin explanation of a rigged economy however, is the portrayal of the news media.

Initially the hostage situation gets broadcast live because Kyle, the perp, mandates it, gun-in-hand. Doing so initially causes some (mild) consternation on the part of Patty and the team, but once they acquiesce, Kyle loses interest in monitoring whether the broadcast continues and they lose interest in worrying.

And nobody pulls the plug.

Rather than seeing this as merely a gaping plothole, in fact, I think it provides the most interesting element of the film: a critique on what today constitutes news and whether a line exists between information provision and grotesque voyeurism. [Cue scenes of Americans glued to their screens, consuming the hostage akin to an episode of a Law & Order].

I won’t complain about opportunities to think about the evolution of news media - it’s an important topic - but Money Monster really isn’t the best place for it. With other recent gems like The Newsroom or Nightcrawler on offer, watching such a shallow exploration isn’t the best use of 98 minutes.

I’m not sure I can end with a compliment beyond it being nice to see Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Esposito for the first time in a while. So instead, I’ll end on one further lament.

Lenny, the cameraman.

The character keeps rolling until the very end, no worry given to guns or explosives or ethics. No opportunity taken to save himself when doing so is possible two or three hundred times. Nope, he just keeps on a filmin’. Not because he was recording anything worthwhile, not because he was a newsman-soldier. Nup. He just keeps filming because nobody told him not to.

Rrright.

For good Clooney I need to go back a few years to The Ides of March. For good Foster, it’s a much, much longer road back to 1995’s Home for the Holidays. And that’s only because I have a spot spot for Holly Hunter.

Money Monster opens in Australia on Thursday the 2nd of June, 2016.

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