There is power in satire, as it lets us pretend for one moment that the mirror we’re looking in is actually a window. This is what Michael Winterbottom’s movie “Greed” attempts to do.
The film follows a biographer (David Mitchell), who is doing a story on Sir Richard “Greedy” McCreadie (Steve Coogan), a twistedly successful, high-profile businessman whose accomplishments are working the system and lowballing everyone he does business with. We quickly get a sense of Greedy McCreadie through flashbacks to his unsavory business decisions in the retail industry (his empire rose through multiple failed businesses and a few seriously corrupt ones), interviews with family members and people he’s worked with, and a documentation of the days leading up to his 60th birthday party.
Sir Richard wants a birthday that reflects his favorite movie, “Gladiator,” and he wants it dripping with celebrities. In preparation for the big day, he has hired a construction crew to build an amphitheater in Mykonos, Greece, and an event planner (Dinita Gohil) to bear the brunt of his demands. The entire McCreadie family has gathered in preparation for the big day, including his mother (Shirley Henderson), the woman from whose cloth he was clearly cut; his tax-evading ex-wife, Samantha (Isla Fisher); his daughter, Lily (Sophie Cookson) and the cast of the reality show she is in (she and her “boyfriend” are constantly flanked by a camera crew); his son, Finn (Asa Butterfield), who does not get along with him at all; and the model hired to be his girlfriend for the party (Shanina Shaik). The entire family is entrenched in this charade of extravagance, and Greedy McCreadie, with his leathery suntan and blindingly white teeth, becomes an easy target for everyone’s hatred.
By the time the family has arrived, five days before the party, the amphitheater is only half-built. A group of Syrian refugees has taken up camp on the public beach, which Sir Richard complains is “right in the middle of our view.” Construction workers keep quitting because Sir Richard is paying them different day rates depending on what country they’re from. The film stacks circumstance upon circumstance, and the ensemble of cast members plays their parts well, leading us into this gaudy circus of excess and self-indulgence that keeps you laughing, cringing and shaking your head.
Winterbottom’s web of satire is a little delicate at times. Sometimes, the veil is a bit too transparent, and the political message of the film, while important, tends to overshadow the actual through-line of the story. Mitchell and Gohil’s characters attempt to steer the story toward its moral with their outsider perspective, but the maneuver is a bit clunky. The film still maintains its fun, and the message maintains its power and relevance, but the blending of the two is not as smooth as one would hope.
But it does make for a hell of a ride, and that’s what we need from a good satire. We need a moment to forget how accurate the story is to our own world. Once the credits roll and we step back out into the light of the lobby, we can connect with how true these characters are to the celebrities of our own society. But, until then, let’s just take comfort in the disaster that Michael Winterbottom has orchestrated for us to enjoy. If you are in the mood for a good satire, be sure to check out “Greed.”
“Greed” plays this month at Midtown Cinema, 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.
At Midtown Cinema
Red Carpet Party
Sunday, Feb. 9, 7 p.m.
Down in Front! Presents
“Space Mutiny” (1988)
Friday, Feb. 14, 9:30 p.m.
3rd in the Burg
Friday, Feb. 21, 9:30 p.m.
“Rolling Stone—Life and Death of Brian Jones”
Sunday, Feb. 23, 7 p.m.