Synopsis – The lives of two different families collide when their children begin a relationship that leads to a tragic accident.
My Take – Interlinked melodramas have a way about them to suck us in with their intriguing stories and ensemble casts, however the end results may differ depending on how they are handled, and of course the pay off in the end is important. While on one hand we have the controversial Academy award winning Crash, which still deserves points for keeping us glued till the end, but on the other we have something like Collateral Beauty, which makes us question especially what the cast saw in the script to sign up in the first place.
Hence keeping everything in mind, it is suffice to say this new domestic drama, the second screen adaptation of Stephen Amidon‘s novel of the same name, lies somewhere in the middle. Though director Marc Meyers‘s film, mainly being carried on the shoulders of a great cast, is an effortful suburban tale of what happens when people get pushed to their limits, mental, physical and financial alike, it unfortunately lacks the compelling nature and overall substance to make it stand out in the already very crowded cutthroat theatrical landscape.
While I have neither seen the 2013 film nor read the book to compare note, but as an overall film I found this to be a tale filled with hits and misses.
The story is told from three distinct points-of-view of its lead characters, one follows Drew (Liev Schreiber), a real estate agent, whose second wife Ronnie (Betty Gabriel), a therapist, tells him she’s pregnant with twins and adding to the pressure of keeping up with the college tuition of his older daughter Shannon (Maya Hawke). In desperate need of a quick financial burst and possibly to scratch his former gambling habit, he talks his way into mortgaging his home and investing it into a risky hedge fund run by Quint Manning (Peter Sarsgaard).
The second one follows Quint’s wife, Carrie (Marisa Tomei), a former actress, who wants to use the family’s wealth to save an old, ornate theater in hopes of bringing the dramatic arts back to the community. The project is expensive, and Quint agrees in order to hold what’s left of the family together. As her theatrical dreams begin to flourish with the help of her newly hired Creative Director Jon (Paul Sparks), something else pops up, throwing everything down the drain.
And the third story follows Drew’s daughter, Shannon itself, who is struggling with her relationship with her father as she has little respect for him. While everyone things she is set for a good future as she has been dating Jamie (Fred Hechinger), Quint and Carrie’s son, secretly gay son, a secret which only Shannon knows about, she begins developing feelings for Ian (Alex Wolff), a patient of Ronnie, who has a history of getting into trouble.
All these stories intersect over a single night when a young waiter is struck by a car on his way home. We see the events leading up to this from three different points of view, each act filling in detail missing from the last. Yup, there’s a lot going on here, but the script by Oren Moverman keeps it all grimly juggling and spinning till the end.
The film clearly aims to explore what is truly important in a world that seems to know the price of everything and the value of nothing, with the screenplay examining the multiple sense of value and worth.
However, the efficient writing and effective direction is a bit too swift to let some of the plot points fully land, and it’s tied up with far too neat a bow for such an otherwise complicated story. While the cut and repeat story-telling works well for the first hour, it routinely deflates itself. Just when the story-line seems to be ramping up, the film suddenly shifts perspectives. Although this technique has been employed many films before, its execution here fails to elevate the script. Moreover, it doesn’t give the film the chance to fully develop many of its characters and instead feel more like a build-up in its entirety especially considering the unsatisfying climax.
There are intriguing themes at the heart of the film, but a compact running time means that there is never enough room to make them really count. Personal issues from adultery to betrayal, coming out and suicide attempts all start to crowd in, creating more of a soap-opera feel to something intent on confronting the moral decline of the western world.
The story and themes from which it’s weaved from is realistic, relevant and tries to touch your strings, but does so unconvincingly. Financial hardships, father/daughter and husband/wife relationship problems, depression, suicide, sexual freedom – all of these themes are there on some level, but they don’t connect together as well as they should’ve.
Despite its best intentions, the film would have been much better off if it had been allowed to play out in chronological order. At the very least, this would have made the ultimate reveal of the truth behind the pivotal accident more satisfying for viewers.
However, each actor is so perfectly cast that one only wishes that the plot itself were more compelling, with higher stakes and more grounded interactions, wasting these commendable performances. For a chance, Liev Schreiber lets go of his tough guy on-screen persona and makes his character feel relatable with his worldly problems. Marisa Tomei, a gorgeously talented actress who’s not on screen nearly enough too underplays her role, making us connect and root for the ignored wife who is just trying to realize a personal dream and follow her passion.
Peter Sarsgaard shines once again in another character who is smarmy and condescending. However, it is Alex Wolff and Maya Hawke who stand out in their comparatively more fleshed-out roles. In supporting roles, Betty Gabriel, Fred Hechinger, Paul Sparks and Aasif Mandvi do well too. On the whole, ‘Human Capital’ is a middling drama with an excellent cast but no extraordinary solutions or distinctive characteristics.
Directed – Marc Meyers
Rated – R
Run Time – 95 minutes