Is it worth $10? No
At the heart of “Greed” is a scorching social commentary on the gaping disparity between the uber-rich and the middle class. It’s also about how the priority of wealth can corrupt a soul, and what happens to that soul when it grows rotten to the core.
It’s not a documentary, nor a drama. It’s a comedy, a social satire full of absurdities and infuriating malfeasance. You never like the main character, Sir Richard McReadie (Steve Coogan), and you quickly realize that almost everyone around him is an enabler. Thus the great failing of “Greed” is that it gives you no one to like, and therefore no one to root for, which means humor is all the movie really has, and…it’s not that funny.
Written and directed by Michael Winterbottom (“The Trip”), the film struggles for relatability at every turn, and only after the fact asserts itself as a polemic. The story’s framework is Richard’s garishly outlandish 60th birthday party in Mykonos, Greece. As we count the days to the big event, flashbacks to Richard’s past show his ascension to wealth and prominence. We see his early years in a boarding school, during which he easily bilks his classmates with three-card monty scams, and his mother (Shirley Henderson) ingrains in him the notion that only money matters. Soon he’s running a retail clothing store, and traveling to Sri Lanka to strong arm factory managers to lower production costs.
His family suffers from his vanity. His son Finn (Asa Butterfield) is a lost soul, and his daughter Lily (Sophie Cookson) is so engrossed in shooting a reality TV show with her boyfriend (Ollie Locke) that she confuses the manufactured reality of the show with real reality. Richard seems to get along well with ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher), though given her avarice and continued fabulous wealth, one doubts she would complain about anything.
There’s plenty happening around Richard as he plans the party. The arena for the gladiator games is well behind in construction, though the lion is ready in its cage; celebrity guests bail at the last minute, prompting his assistant Melanie (Sarah Solemani) to hire lookalikes; and there are Syrian refugees camping on beaches nearby that Richard insists need to be removed immediately. The problem is, it’s a public beach. Trying to chronicle all of this is Richard’s biographer, Nick (David Mitchell), who is well aware of the hubris but is frequently unsure what to do or say.
The only character who registers in any way is Amanda (Dinita Gohil), who works for Richard. As a child she saw how shockingly low pay affected her factory worker mother. You feel for Amanda, as she certainly has a reason to be bitter toward Richard. But her character arc is a stretch, especially toward the end.
Tonal shifts, a contrived story, and jokes that don’t land are a recipe for struggle, and “Greed” suffers from all three.
Did you know?
Even though she plays his mother, in real life Henderson is one month younger than Coogan.