The stock in trade of satire is exaggerating something that exists in the real world, which raises the issue of how to make a satirical treatment of a situation already so extreme that it beggars belief? More generally, how can you write satire if the everyday reality in which we all live has become so unbelievable that, really, you couldn’t possibly make up anything that would be more extreme than daily life? You may well do like the German satirist (whose name now escapes me)* whose reaction to life in his country in the early twentieth century was, basically — “I give up, because I can’t possibly make up anything more extreme than what is actually happening these days.”
I feel like we’re living in that world today, but Michael Winterbottom, director of, among other things, 24 Hour Party People and the Trip series starring Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, hasn’t thrown in the towel yet. Instead, he’s brought out what seems intended to be a cutting satire, Greed, starring Coogan as fashion mogul Sir Richard McCreadie (Get it? Even his name rhymes with “greedy”). McCreadie is reportedly based on Sir Philip Green, creator of fast fashion brands like TopShop, a connection I’m citing based on what I’ve read, because Green is not particularly well known here in the U.S. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of the guy, because he’s a type that is only too familiar in a world that seems determined to return to a level of wealth disparity characteristic of the Gilded Age, if not the Middle Ages.
McCreadie, sporting a bottled tan (remind you of anyone?) and a remarkable set of very British teeth, will soon celebrate his 60th birthday. He can’t settle for any ordinary party, of course—for his 50th he played the Emperor Nero, surrounded by toga-clad courtiers, on the island of Cyprus—and he needs to top that for the diamond anniversary of his birth. His ex-wife Samantha (Isla Fisher) helps with the arrangements, which are scheduled to take place on Mykonos, and various other characters pop up, including Shirley Henderson as McCreadie’s mother, Sophie Cookson as his daughter, Asa Butterfield as his son, and an immigrant woman named Amanda (Dinita Bohil), whose mother died in a factory fire. It’s all being chronicled by McCreadie’s would-be biographer (David Mitchell), which provides the opportunity to introduce some of the less lovely exploits of a younger McCreadie (played by Jamie Blackley).
While all this is playing out, we are also treated to a series of factoids about the brutal treatment of garment workers in the developing world, anviliciously making the point that the wealth of McCreadie and his ilk is based on ruthless exploitation of people who don’t have a lot of choices in terms of bettering their lives. It’s a real YMMV approach: I have a feeling that people who are interested in social justice are well aware of these facts already, and those that aren’t won’t suddenly become interested thanks to this film. The YMMV judgment also applies to the many scenes of the degenerate rich proving they have more money than brains—basically, everyone already knows that such people exist, and I don’t find Winterbottom’s attempts at satire to be either entertaining or enlightening. The result is a film that largely falls flat, failing to either amuse or challenge the viewer. | Sarah Boslaugh
* If anyone remembers who this was, please respond in the comments below! It’s been a few years since my undergrad days.