Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 51 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 0; Language 6; Sex/Nudity 4.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have…
That is not the advice that Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) would pay any heed to, as we see in this woman directed, written (Meera Menon and Amy Fox), and largely female produced feminist take on Wall Street greed and power plays. At one point Naomi, a senior investment banker, confesses frankly to a room full of networking women that she “likes money.” She likes it not only because of what it can buy—her diamond earrings and an education for her brother—but also because numbers fascinate her. Wall Street for her is a high stakes game.
Money is also power, and Naomi is very conscious of its prerequisites to which she feels entitled. There is a telling scene late in the film in which she is upset by the chocolate chip cookie an underling serves to her. She demands, “Count the f—ing chips!” “Three,” is the answer from the terror-stricken gofer. Naomi insists that in the future there had better be as many in her cookie as in th e ones served to the men.
Naomi is in line, along with several men, to replace the retiring Randall (Lee Terguson) at their underwriting company. However, he likes to keep her ill at ease, not letting her forget that she was failed recently to land a major account. We wonder, though, if Naomi had been a man, would her boss have made this such a big deal. Thus she is under great pressure for her negotiations with a new client in California to end well. An online investment company called Cachet is about to launch its IPO (Initial Public Offering), and Naomi has studied it from every angle so that it will open at least at $35 a share.
Naomi’s right hand woman is Erin Manning (Sarah Megan Thomas), a younger version of herself—brilliant, ambitious, hard working, and beautiful. Like Naomi, Erin refuses to wear the pants suits once thought necessary for women wanting to make a good impression in the male world. Both wear their hair long and skirts short, just above the knee. We see that theirs is not the old style feminism, one of sisterhood, in the scene in which Erin asks Naomi if she can put in a good word for her overdue promotion. Naomi abruptly and coldly cuts her off with no encouragement, telling her now is not a good time to push this. Erin becomes pregnant and tries to hide it. She also has to fend off the attention of Cachet’s CEO without disrupting the deal.
If Naomi is sort of an anti-heroine, a softer, more subtle version of Gordon Gekko, the closest the film comes to providing a heroine is Naomi’s friend from college, Samantha (Alysia Reiner), a state attorney investigating securities fraud. She tries unsuccessfully to enlist Naomi’s aid in sniffing out some insider trading among the latter’s colleagues.
Virtually all of the men in the film are slippery guys who would stab you in the back for gain, as does the man serving as the femme fatale in this role reversal movie, hedge fund manager Michael Connor (James Purefoy), Naomi’s supposed boy friend. He knows his way around women, turning on the charm over glasses of wine and trysts in bed. Because he and Naomi work at the same bank, there is supposed to be a firewall between them, but he occasionally asks a question or two, seeking tidbits of information. There is also Ed (Samuel Roukin), the CEO of the California tech firm that Naomi and Erin are wooing to hire their firm for underwriting its upcoming IPO. Erin is able to use both logic and her feminine charms to win his favor. However, as Naomi, with Erin’s able assistance, bring the negotiations to a successful close, she discovers just how treacherous the denizens of Wall Street can be—and that there really is for women a glass ceiling.
That this is not an overt critique of Wall Street and its ways we see in what Samantha does when she is unable to close her investigation successfully. Married (to a woman) with two young children, she realizes how low her government salary is compared to the lizards she is investigating. What if she should join them? She would be bringing some valuable knowledge and experience of government ways to her new employer. Is this selling out, or a matter of getting smart?
There are many movies whose characters one enjoys and with whom one would love to hang out. This is not one of them. Most of the characters are so success-driven that they seem willing to pay any price to reach their goals. The film has been seen as feminist, and it is certainly woman centered. But maybe we should question any celebration of the lives of these women. Did so many people struggle so long and hard for gender equality so that women can now be as mean and underhanded as men? Hmm, I suppose so. Real equality does have a dark as well as a bright side. Plenty to think about, especially if you have, or are, a daughter. In the past it was more the serving, or nurturing vocations that women went into. Indeed, two of those professions originally were male dominated—teaching and nursing. As women in society slowly become equal with men, they are free to join the predatory professions as well.
This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the September issue of VP.
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