A review of Equity, directed by Meera Menon
In playwriting (or screenwriting) there is a golden rule that if a gun is introduced onstage it has to go off by the final curtain. In EQUITY, the first movie about Wall Street to be written, directed, produced and financed by women, there is a gun that doesn't go off and the silence is deafening.That gun is the boxing lessons endured by Naomi, the investment bank executive played by Anna Gunn, at the tail-end of every taxing day spent trying to make rain for dickish Silicon Valley thought leaders less than half her age. Gunn (who memorably played Bryan Cranston's ball breaking wife in BREAKING BAD) is a big woman who with the benefit of boxing lessons could probably inflict serious damage, yet in the climactic scene of EQUITY when she confronts her oily trader boyfriend with her knowledge that he has sabotaged the deal of her career, she doesn't punch his lights out. So it is with EQUITY, an extremely well-acted film that succeeds admirably in its stated intent to create gray lines, moral ambiguity and complexity in an often cartoonish subject, but often at its own expense. It is serious. It is tasteful. It is balanced in portraying the betrayal of ambitious women by other ambitious women , screwing each other (in one case, literally) much like guys. But the naked aggression that gives Wall Street movies much of their entertainment value is conspicuously absent and the result is, well, not much fun. The intent, as Gunn said in pre-release publicity, was to show women "walking the delicate balance you have to walk between being tough and being soft, being precise and sometimes hard and tempering that with charm and humor." The problem is that there's a hole at the heart of these hard-driven female characters: it's hard to get what they're getting out of it. It's not enough money to justify the steely control they're compelled to exert on all of their emotions, and anyway, as Donald Trump would tell them, the whole point of success is the license to behave like an asshole. When Naomi explodes in an important meeting over the fact that her chocolate cookie doesn't have as many chocolate chips as her male colleagues', it doesn't come off as an absurdist moment, but as a miserably puny ambition. The pre-publicity for EQUITY dwells on the fact that the screenplay, written by Amy Fox, drew on interviews from hundreds of women working in Wall Street, and I have no doubt that it is truthful, up to a point. But it is a film financed by women keen on presenting a more favorable view of themselves as stewards of the nation's finance than the wolves of Wall Street. Perhaps that is why there are long moments of unreality or faux-naïveté. Why would a woman as ruthlessly controlled and presumably intelligent as Naomi allow herself to become sexually dependent on a trader( sorry to be a S.N.O.B. but not high on the food chain and a type known for peddling information)? Conversely, would any trader with an I.Q. above room temperature succumb to the feminine wiles of a gay prosecutor, Samantha (played by Alysia Reiner) who displays total recall of every deal he's ever made while coyly pretending she doesn't know how to balance her checkbook, without suspecting he's being set up for a sting? Reiner herself expresses the hope that the movie EQUITY will incite change on Wall Street, but Samantha is hardly a good argument. Apparently motivated by a deep jealousy of her former schoolmate Naomi, she orchestrates her demise and at the same time wriggles her way into a high-paying Wall Street job. The film-makers have expressed their hope that a Hillary Clinton Presidency will make 2016 their moment, but it will be interesting to see how EQUITY plays on Main Street, not Wall Street.