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“Human Capital” Can’t Fully Make Its Point

There’s a structural choice at the center of Human Capital that either sabotages a good movie or elevates a bad one to the level of just being a mixed bag. I can’t quite decide which it is. Early on, there’s some interesting potential here, before giving way to a lot of mediocrity, before hinting at something better towards the end. Again, it’s that choice of structure, which we’ll get into below, that makes for at least some degree of a disconnect. At the end of the day, a really interesting cast can only do so much here. Hitting VOD tomorrow, it can’t quite get over the hump.

The film is an ensemble drama, or really a melodrama, about a number of bad choices over a short frame of time. Two very different families are brought together when Shannon (Maya Hawke) dates Jamie (Fred Hechinger). Her father Drew (Liev Schreiber) is a struggling real estate agent, trying to make money while his new wife Ronnie (Betty Gabriel) announces her pregnancy with twins. His parents are super wealthy, with Quint (Peter Sarsgaard) running a hedge fund, while Carrie (Marisa Tomei) has her eyes on restoring an old theater in town. When Drew asks to invest in Quint’s fund, it’s the first bad decision, though when a tragic accident involving some combination of Jamie and Shannon occurs as well, things escalate. Marc Meyers directs a screenplay by Oren Moverman, based on the novel by Stephen Amidon. The score here is by Marcelo Zarvos, while Kat Westergaard handles the cinematography. Rounding out the cast we have Aasif Mandvi, Paul Sparks, Alex Wolff, and more.

So, the structural choice that the flick fumbles is opting to tell the story in fragments, doubling back over itself to follow most of the individual characters over the same time frame. The issue here is that some of the threads are for more interesting than the others. For example, you ultimately care very little about almost everyone in the cast, but then in the back end Maya Hawke’s Shannon takes focus and she’s actually very captivating. Where Peter Sarsgaard, Liev Schreiber, Marisa Tomei, and company, are all just sort of there, she’s alive and full of energy. Had the movie just focused on her character, this would have been a very different production, and I’d argue, a far better one, as well.

Human Capital wants to make grand points about the damage we can do to each other when we’re greedy and selfish, in all of its various forms. That’s an admirable goal, but whether Oren Moverman’s adaptation of the novel is a bad fit for Marc Meyers’ direction, vice versa, or whatever the case, the mixture here is all off. Too many characters end up monologuing and preaching, never letting the situation unfold naturally. Moverman is a strong filmmaker in his own right, so one can expect more, whether or not Meyers is the one who came up with the problematic structure. Whatever the case, aside from Hawke, this is largely a misfire.

Tomorrow, audiences looking for an On Demand option to consider will have Human Capital as an option. If you’re really into ensemble dramas, there are worse ones than this, and Maya Hawke really is great. However, there are far better options as well, so it’s hard to see this one getting your attention. It doesn’t get a recommendation from me, if that matters at all. It’s not bad, but it should have been a lot better, that’s for sure. Make of that what you will…

Human Capital is on VOD this weekend.

(Photos courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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