The Big Short, or why Margot Robbie explaining economics in a bathtub works

Margot Robbie in "The Big Short" via YouTube

Just how often does one leave the cinema these days having actually learnt something?

It’s a question The Big Short, a movie about the men who managed to profit off the 2008 financial crisis, seems badly poised to answer in the affirmative. Economics plus douchebags seldom, if ever, equals entertainment.

Yet somehow, The Big Short works. And why? Because you’ll leave the cinema both smarter and angrier.

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The Importance of Being Elderly: Maggie Smith Stuns in The Lady in the Van

Image Credit – From The Lady in the Van by BBC Films

The Lady in the Van ‘s BFI London Film Festival premiere comes a week after new figures revealed that more than half  a million adults are missing out on care due to government welfare cuts.

I expected the film to entertain me – after all, it’s written by Alan Bennett (of The History Boys fame) and stars the brilliant Dame Maggie Smith. However, I didn’t expect the film to have such an emotional impact.

Adapted from Bennett’s 1999 play of the same name, The Lady in the Van is the “mostly true story” of Bennett’s relationship with Mary Shepherd, an elderly, homeless oddball whose van was encamped on the playwright’s driveway in Camden, London over a period of fifteen years.

Some criticism has been levelled at the film for its use of drama. For the most part, the film is a wonderfully whimsical comedy, with a predictably perfect performance by Smith. But what, to me, truly elevated the film was its engagement with issues of homelessness and old age.

Last year, the Institute of Economic Affairs labelled the government’s welfare spending a “debt timebomb”, suggesting that to solve the problem the government needed a “fundamental reform of pension and healthcare provision”. And the Lady in the Van reminded me of just how important welfare for the elderly and homeless is.

Over the past year, both of my elderly parents have relied heavily upon the NHS – I have to admit, I haven’t been particularly impressed. However, the movie alerted me to the plight of even the most impolite senior citizen.

Many of us are guilty of disregarding the aged and impoverished, despite campaigns by various charities attempting to encourage us to think about the loneliness of both situations. The multi-organisation Campaign for Loneliness claims that nearly one million over-65s feel alone and isolated.

In The Lady in the Van, Smith’s character is both verbally and physically abused. There were only a few of these moments on-screen, but they were some of the most important.

Vulnerable people like the old and mentally ill Miss Shepard are undoubtedly more likely to be the victims of violence, not the perpetrators. And yet, most of us avoid such people due to a momentary sense of fear, or perhaps embarrassment.

In the film, Bennett’s arc compellingly exposes a man who transitions from perspectives. The begin with, Bennett sees Smith’s character as just a homeless old woman. Society has all but dehumanized her, and she is nothing but a nuisance to all.

But as the story unfolds, Bennett sheds this view, coming to appreciate that Miss Shepherd has, like anyone, a complex and rich history. She deserves dignity and care, things all too often missing from many people’s final years.

The Lady in the Van is one of those rare comedies that, after all the laughter, makes you pause to consider the real world. It is, without a doubt, one of the most affecting comedies I’ve seen all year.

The Lady in the Van is set for release in the UK on November 13th 2015.

Image Credit – From The Lady in the Van by BBC Films

Is Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck really a feminist comedy?

Trainwreck by Universal Pictures Apatow Productions

As it turns out, replacing the protagonist of all those “bachelor grows up and settles down” comedies with a woman isn’t as clever as it sounds. At best, it’s soft feminism. At worst, it’s unintentionally misogynistic.

Following on from the likes of 40-Year-Old Virgin and Bridesmaids, director Judd Apatow’s latest effort, Trainwreck, feels like an experiment. Can you make a movie out of Amy Schumer’s stage persona – an entitled New Yorker hilariously unaware of her own privilege? The answer isn’t as straightforward as some might hope.

It’s easy to see why Apatow agreed to make this movie, the first he’s directed but not written. Schumer’s premise is a strong one, following an unapologetically hedonistic and successful woman through the trials and tribulations of being 30-something in New York. As the lead, Schumer expertly mines the minutiae of a thirty-something’s life for comedy whilst avoiding any moralising about a busy sex life, use of substances and selfish living.

The film is also pleasantly unconventional. As the leads, Schumer and Bill Hader have a refreshingly real-life look, one reinforced by cameo’s from sculpted Hollywood celebs like John Cena and Brie Larson. These are characters who feel rounded and real, albeit very cosmopolitan.

But Trainwreck fails to deliver on what begins as an antithesis to Bridget Jones. Instead, the film falls into the worn-out “girl-needs-a-good-man-to-be-complete” territory.

Perhaps this would have been forgiveable in the 80s or 90s, but in 2015 Trainwreck feels like  a squandered opportunity. 2009’s 500 Days of Summer proved our generation can laugh whilst accepting an anticlimactic ending, because it served the story. Trainwreck, however, isn’t as brave.

The plot meanders, a hallmark of Apatow, but ends predictably. In fact, the ending leaves all of the subplots and character explorations feeling like a bad attempt at slight of hand, a sort of “Look! Good Characters! Please ignore the generic central story!”

The film left me asking: Why is it so hard to make a feminist movie? Why do women who enjoy sex and partying have to be reformed? You could make the argument that at least in Trainwreck this is the choice of the main character, but why does that choice involve chasing the “perfect man”?

The end result isn’t a train-wreck by any means. Instead, it’s like being sat in a train compartment on the Orient Express, only for someone to let off a huge fart.

Image Credit – Trainwreck by Universal Pictures and Apatow Productions