Jul 27, 2016
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Being a Man: Equity
Directed by Meera Menon
Opens July 29
I came to Equity prepared, with my MBA buddy in tow as my plus-one, ready to assess the realism and accuracy of its Wall Streetiness, on a scale of Money Monster to Margin Call. But I was immediately distracted by something else: the sheer, blinding speed with which this movie passes the Bechdel Test, which is to say it features multiple—dozens, even—of conversations between two named female characters about something other than a man. Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) works for the largest investment bank in the world (we know this because she says: “I work for the largest i-bank in the world”), though she feels underestimated and undercompensated (“I’ve been undercompensated two years in a row”) after she backed out of managing an IPO that turned out to be huge.
Now she has a chance to orchestrate another big tech IPO for a security firm; hence the many conversations with her underling Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas, giving off a Zosia Mamet vibe) and her old friend Samantha (Alysia Reiner), now working at the US Attorney’s office and riding the subway to work like a schnook, as foretold by Jordan Belfort. Samantha is also gunning for any IPO-related malfeasance. Naomi, Erin, and Samantha are well-drawn and well-acted characters; it’s especially thrilling to see TV refugees given parts just as meaty as their small-screen roles (Gunn is from Breaking Bad, and Reiner is from Orange is the New Black). Not only does Equity blow through the Bechdel optics in a flash, it was also written, produced, and directed by women.
Their point of view shines through and keeps the movie compelling even through some dry spots. The screenplay (by Amy Fox with a story credit for Thomas) contains sub-the-other-Mamet dialogue (“I was supposed to be a motherfucking rainmaker”) that only half-crackles, and the filmmaking is more competent than electric. Director Meera Menon frames Naomi’s version of the “greed is good” speech, pointedly, at a women-in-business panel, sitting down, with a high-heel-centric logo in the background. But Menon keeps cutting away from her push-in, which feels like the right visual engine for that scene, in favor of superfluous other angles. Even in a fast-paced montage later on, she keeps cutting to stock-looking exteriors in the middle of the action.
I’m told, by my aforementioned MBA friend, that Equity is pretty realistic for this sort of thing, nailing little details (multiple Blackberries; compliance-department wardrobes) that bigger finance movies lack. I can’t testify to that, but I can say that the movie feels more lived than constructed. Credit not just whatever research Menon, Fox, and Thomas did, but Gunn, Reiner, and Thomas sharing an ability to root their characters in the real world, where women don’t just fall in love with Wall Street players, or turn into cash prizes by the end.
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