I would love to write a simple movie review. There’s a format for writing one, and it’s fairly straightforward. Talk about the filmmakers a bit, add a sentence or two about plot, and then give your opinion. Easy enough. I’d like to be able to do that. I could get so much else done with my time—can you imagine? It’s never that easy though—our opinions are never as objective as we think they are, and it comes across in our writing. When it comes to movie reviews, I’d love a little equality, but we don’t often get that, do we? We get certain films singled out for their merits, others attacked for their flaws, and very little overlap.
Keeping this in mind, it’s hard to write a simple review of Jodie Foster’s Money Monster without addressing sexism within the film industry. When I say film industry, I’m including both filmmakers and film consumers. That means everybody from writers, directors and studio heads to film bloggers, review aggregate sites, and little old you. You’re a consumer—a critic—and don’t let paid film critics convince you they’re the only ones with minds. You’ve got one too, and that can be a great thing.
According to IMDb, something like 1500 men have weighed in on Money Monster, versus less than 500 women. Here at Screen Queens, we value women’s perspectives and experiences, and we know girls and women are capable of being kickass critics. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always mean the women themselves know it. When a female director sets out to make a thriller, she’s not only fighting sexism within the film industry, she’s also tackling any sexism present in audiences and critics. And mainstream male audiences and critics have one major problem when it comes to a woman directing a thriller: They want a guy to do it instead. If a man’s not around to take on the job, they’ll settle for a woman, but only if she’s Kathryn Bigelow.
(If I could, I’d write a whole book on the male reaction to conversations about female directors and call it “Kathryn Bigelow Can’t Be the Only Female Director You List, Sorry”. Sometimes when I start in on this topic, a man will hastily remind me that he’s also heard of Maya Deren and—by the way—his girlfriend doesn’t think he’s sexist. Oh, okay.)
Just knowing the difficulties female film directors face, it’s interesting to note what changes when instead of just any female director, we’re dealing with a prominent actress-turned-director. In this case, Jodie Foster’s established career was no doubt a benefit in terms of accessing funds, but her fame impacts this project in various other ways, and these are important to note as we consider the film.
Money Monster opens with a flash of light and sound. We meet TV personality Lee Gates (George Clooney) on the set of Money Monster, a cable finance show he hosts. He’s being brought up to speed on the latest developments by the program’s director, Patty Finn (Julia Roberts). We meet Lee and Patty in the last frantic moments before the airing of their show, and as viewers we get the feeling this is business as usual. We’re told that less than 24 hours ago, a company called IBIS Global Capital experienced an inexplicable crash. We’re told this is the result of a glitch in the company’s algorithm, and is reported to have cost its investors something like $800 million.
IBIS CEO Walt Camby (played by Dominic West) was set to appear on Money Monster for a brief interview about the stock failing, but he left suddenly for a business trip in Geneva. Representing IBIS in his absence is chief communications officer for the company, Diane Lester (Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe).
About ten minutes into the show, Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell) arrives on the set disguised as a deliveryman, pulls a gun and takes Lee and the crew hostage, forcing Lee to strap on a vest wired with explosives. Kyle explains on air he’s upset because he invested his savings in IBIS stock after a recommendation made by Lee. He’s looking for answers.
Before I critique a film, I try to discern what a movie is trying to do and use that as a starting point. I check the film’s advertising again and look to see if the movie delivers what its trailer promises. I think this is the area where Money Monster fell short. Viewers couldn’t get a clear reading of the film’s intention (Is it a political thriller? A Wall Street satire?), and audience reception has been mixed as a result.
I’m thrilled Jodie Foster was selected to helm Money Monster, but wish the screenplay felt a little more polished. Screenwriters for the feature are listed as Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, and Jim Kouf. I don’t know Jamie Linden. I look him up, and see credits for films like We Are Marshall and Dear John. This makes sense to some degree, given the human elements of the film.
The cinematography is compelling, especially in the first and last fifteen minutes of the movie. George Clooney and Jack O’Connell both do admirable work as their characters. Of course, when we have George Clooney in front of us, we tend to want more George Clooney, and it feels throughout as though he’s being kept at arm’s length.
And then there’s Julia Roberts. I don’t know at this point if I actually like Julia Roberts’ acting or if I’ve been conditioned to like Julia Roberts’ acting, but who cares? It’s there, it’s great, I’ll take it. I love the way Money Monster acts as a sort of bookend to Roberts’ earlier work in political thrillers like Conspiracy Theory, and The Pelican Brief. In Money Monster, all the danger of the earlier films is present, but Roberts has matured and is now as calm as she can be, given the situation. Roberts’ Patty Finn maintains her composure on the set until the very end, and acts just when she needs to. Honestly, I could write this entire piece about her if I hadn’t already committed to, well, the whole review thing.
I’ve seen so many reviews comparing Money Monster to other movies. As film blogger and social media guru Marya E. Gates pointed out in her video review, so much of contemporary film criticism relies on comparison and follows the format of “X film is not Y film.” And it’s true—so far I’ve seen reviews boldly declaring that Money Monster is not Dog Day Afternoon, not Network, not Broadcast News, and not Inside Man. At this point, we can likely also infer it’s not Citizen Kane or Christmas with the Kranks. What is it then?
Money Monster is an often-compelling social drama which focuses on the humanity of its characters. I wish the filmmakers would’ve gone grittier, but it’s hard to break all the rules when there’s that much money involved (there’s probably a joke to be made in there—something like, “Money monster indeed”—but I’ll skip it for now). Money Monster is no more a mashup of other films than any other movie is a mashup of other films. Can it remind critics of other films they’ve seen? Yes, absolutely. As humans, our memory often works by association, and it makes sense that seeing a man with a gun on the big screen evokes other instances of when we saw men with guns in other movies. I’m not necessarily against referring to other things when discussing a work—I’m just against comparison being used as the sole frame of criticism.
Money Monster is an imperfect film, and that’s ok. Movies don’t have to be perfect for us to get something from them. In fact, it seems a little as though movie critics ought to be grateful for ones which leave room for improvement and commentary. They drive this whole market. (I’m reminded briefly of Christians hating on Judas for selling Jesus out, but because I’m a fan of drawing parallels and leaving them unexplored, I’ll keep it at that. This review is also imperfect.)
The film’s most memorable scene involves Patty directing her cameraman to try for a better shot. “Don’t spook him,” she instructs the guy, who slowly edges in on Jack. Jack, now Very Much Spooked, shouts at the cameraman and asks what he’s doing. The man assures Jack he’s just trying to do his job, and for a moment there’s an understanding reached between the two.
At the bottom of everything, the film seems primarily a human drama. Yes, there’s a gun. Yes, it’s thrilling. But reading reviews from Cannes, you’d think people were expecting The Purge 3. So many contemporary critics act as though the mark of a good thriller is whether or not it gives its audiences coronaries, but Jodie Foster knows how to let a movie breathe. Narrative films by their very definition are meant to tell a story, and she delivers that well. There’s a scene of straight sex I could have done without, but overall Money Monster made for enjoyable viewing.
I’d love to see Jodie Foster create her own production company. I think she’s absolutely got the skill for that, as well as the resources. I’m really excited to see where she goes from here, and hope at some point in the future she’s able to team up with Julia Roberts again. I’d watch a whole Patty Finn spinoff at this point, honestly. It could be like 30 Rock but with drama and stock tips and, well, Julia Roberts.
By Juliette Faraone
Juliette Faraone is 25 and feels it. She hails from Indiana and her habits include petting cats, reading books, and annoying her girlfriend with movie trivia. When she finally gets around to grad school, she plans to pursue a degree in gender studies and comparative literature. Her favorite films include Alien, Set It Off, and Meet Me in St. Louis. She rants about feminism at juliettefaraone.com