Movies such as Wolf of Wall Street and The Big Short go to great lengths to show the ways in which big money often leads to big problems. With her new drama, Equity, which opens at the Cedar Lee on Friday, writer-director Meera Menon adds her voice to the mix.
Menon's film, however, pales in comparison. Based on an Amy Fox (Heights) script, the movie fails to generate any sympathy for its central character, an investment banker who finds the odds stacked against her because she's a woman. It ultimately delivers a mixed message about the perils of investment banking and how it's still a man's world.
Early in the film, we learn that Naomi Bishop (Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn) continues to try to rebuild her career after a previous venture turned into a debacle. So when she hears about an internet security company that's preparing to go public, she leads the charge to sign them to a contract, so her firm can assist them in the endeavor.
A few significant obstacles stand in the way of her attempts to rebrand herself.
A government attorney (Alysia Reiner) questions Naomi about her relationship with Michael Connor (James Purefoy), who also works for Bishop's investment firm. Turns out, Michael might have participated in some insider trading, and the government has begun an investigation. And then there's Naomi's deer-in-headlights assistant Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas), who's angling for a promotion and will do anything to make that happen, even though Naomi has told her to give it a rest. In predictable fashion, Naomi quickly realizes she has no friends. Michael can't be trusted, and Erin finds ways to undermine her authority and make the most of the fact that she's younger and prettier.
The film preaches a feminist message at its core, but that message is muddled. Wall Street treats women worse than men, but if Wall Street is so corrupt, what does it matter if the dynamics tend to give women the short shrift? Gunn, who was so terrific in Breaking Bad, struggles to portray Naomi as someone we should care about. A clunky script is partly to blame, as she has to make lines like, "When is it going to be my fucking year?" sound convincing. And Thomas isn't believable as the insecure assistant who suddenly develops the ability to navigate treacherous waters like some kind of shark, making the movie, which was written, directed, produced by and stars women, come off more like something you'd expect out of Lifetime than a film company devoted to showcasing the work of talented female directors and producers.