Billionaire Boys Club (2018)
★★ / ★★★★
James Cox’s misfire “Billionaire Boys Club” attempts to tell the true story of recent college graduates, Joe Hunt (Ansel Elgort) and Dean Karny (Taron Egerton), who create a high-risk investment firm—a Ponzi scheme—in order to establish a perception of success. Because in their world during early 1980s Los Angeles, being rich on paper and cash poor is better than the idea of being perceived as what they actually are—struggling, like mostly everybody else, to become financially successful. Although supposedly based on real life, it is plagued with inaccuracies, like softening the characterization of Hunt so he is more sympathetic. With this in mind, the work must be evaluated based on what it has achieved.
The first half of the picture is stronger than the latter. It is interesting that although it attempts to tell a story from thirty years ago, there is a modern feel in the way the picture is put together. The clothes, the makeup, the cars, the influential figures running around the City of Angels are vintage and yet the feelings it evokes are out of its time. This can be attributed to Amy Collier and Glen Scantlebury’s curious editing: it strives to match the manic energy, even the hedonism, of the young men who wish to prove themselves, hungry for money and public admiration but not self-respect. As the resourceful pair manipulates potential investors, an upbeat feeling is generated; the fast climb atop a mountain pregnant with purpose.
Elgort and Egerton make convincing accomplices. They look good in suits even when under extreme pressure of breathing out one lie after another. It is the screenplay, however, that is not up to the level of their talent—which is why the second half is thoroughly problematic. Because the writing is so sloppy, particularly when repercussions must be painted on the canvas, one gets the impression that the film does not know how to be resolved—strange since the final destination is already written by life. The duo’s downfall feels rushed and messy. It is the writers’ responsibility—James Cox and Captain Mauzner—to make sense of every step so that the viewer can have a complete understanding of the crime.
Thus, the film, as a whole, is rendered ineffective. I have no problem in how Hunt and Karny are written or portrayed. The people within biographical crime dramas are stretched or embellished most of the time. But the crime itself—how the subjects get there and the accompanying fallout that sometimes follows—this is something that must be captured with feverish accuracy. What is the point of telling this particular story otherwise? Superior films within the genre even take the material further by connecting the critiques of the past to something similar that is occurring today. This film is uninterested in striving for much.
“Billionaire Boys Club” can be criticized for being shallow—and I do not disagree. On the one hand, that is, I think, part of the point: the young men’s dream of becoming financially secure for life and gaining positive social recognition is indeed quite shallow. On the other hand, the dream of striking it rich fast and being socially respected transcends time and culture. After all, in many people’s eyes, money goes hand in hand with respect. The screenplay ought to have been ironed out in order for this story to command undeniable cultural relevance in modern times. Examples can be found everywhere, from the cars we drive, the brand of shoes we wear, down to the color of our credit cards. I was disappointed by its unwillingness to overachieve.