EQUITY is an Economic Fable for Our Times – Movie Review

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equity movie posterEquity, directed by Meera Menon and written by Amy Fox, starring Anna Gunn, is an economic fable for our times, with the punch and cultural insight of The Big Short, without the faux celebrity razzle dazzle of The Wolf of Wall Street, and with much greater freshness than either. It’s a movie by and about women in the upper echelons of investment banking and the drinking, sex, and wheels and deals this entails that propels independent production with a female perspective to new heights of achievement.

When I entered the new SONY screening room down on Madison Avenue and 25th street, I didn’t know who Meera Menon was, and I barely recognized the name, Amy Fox. I did, however, know Anna Gunn for her role as Skyler White, co-starring with Bryan Cranston in Breaking Bad, so I went to see Equity with a mild interest, as the guest of a fellow film critic with whom I was going to catch up on our news at dinner afterwards. I now know they are all really good at what they do and would like to share my enthusiasm with you. CLICHE ALERT: The publicity for the film is atrocious, using the jargon of bad television recappers, “Forced to reexamine the rules of the cutthroat world she has always loved she finds herself in a fight for her very survival.” Pass the popcorn.

Equity is much better than that. It takes the old bromide “Love of money is the root of all evil,” and gives it a nuclear kick. The movie starts off introducing us to Naomi Bishop, a big blonde in a stunning apartment, wearing the simple, elegant, but comfortable clothes of our dreams. Sound familiar? It actually isn’t. Naomi looks and sounds like a woman, not someone’s idea of an ambitious woman at the top of her game, but a woman I feel could walk plausibly off the screen. Her hair and make-up look like a woman not a professional cosmetician and stylist put them together and this is true for the various and many women who cross her path as friends and colleagues. And when they talk, they sound like women talking to each other. It’s a fresh, cleansing breeze blowing through woman-centered movies, and a vote of confidence in my reality that made me sit up and take notice as I watched Naomi go through her paces. Kudos to the producers that gave Menon and Fox the freedom to go for this.

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I’m not sure that I can say the same of the relationships between men and women in the film which strike me as more conventionally manipulated, but, Hell, it’s fiction. This is not the greatest film ever made, but it doesn’t have to be. It earns its right to be noticed by setting up shop in a brand new area for women in film, between the Kathryn Bigelow brand of movie magic that screams, “Hey I can do action just like a man,” that gets awards, and the Nancy Meyers concession that dares to take the domestic domain seriously, in comic mode, as a place where important things happen, and receives the patronizing industry pat on the head for making money. This is something different. This is women out there in the big world without using the over-used, under thought out metaphor of literal violence to convey the feeling of everything coming at us women from all sides. Naomi works so much more powerfully than Xena, Warrior Princess and her ilk, as a target on the playing fields of America because she has to use her brains and her instincts rather than her fists, her high heeled boots, and her gun to ward off the emotional and strategic attacks on her. Throw all your silverware and glasses at me if you will, but I argue that entertaining young girls, and big girls like us too, using metaphors of shooting, punching, and kicking to represent female resistance are boring and counter productive in the feminist department, to speak diplomatically. It only makes the male establishment more sexist when they watch us trying to play their game using their trite rules. But I digress.

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Naomi, for all her strategic brilliance, is a target as she tries to become a “rainmaker” in the financial world by taking a security company public on the stock market. Maybe she is a target because she is a woman. Maybe because those are the rules of the game. You will decide. And you will be able to see some of the attacks coming from a mile off. So, you don’t want me to pre-chew them for you here, and I won’t. But what I expect will sneak up on you is the subtle ironies of feminism that the film examines, which I also won’t ruin for you by giving my analysis of how Equity punctures fantasies that women can change the world by being strong, smart, and free to engage the nasty cess pool of the American economic free-for-all that the men have created without being contaminated. All I will say is that like this film I too question whether honest ambition and a frank, above board delight in money and the things that it buys will work any better for the best of women than it has for the best of men. Well, OK, one more comment. There is a moment Anna Gunn has in the movie with a chocolate chip cookie; my friend noted that if this was Robert Di Niro it would have become an iconic scene in contemporary filmmaking. Will this happen for Gunn? It should. Equity opens on July 29.

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