Wednesday, March 2, 2011


A Panther Joe Hodgepodge

Sometimes there are stories that are so well fleshed out that the adaption from written word to screen is nearly flawless. Other times, novels transcend the literary world and pronounce themselves in our pop culture, leaving little room for a possible film to improve on the ideas of the parties involved. Then there are documentaries, such as Freakonomics, that wander haplessly across the big screen and have many of us asking, "what in the Devil am I watching?"
Freakonomics, 2010
Director: Morgan Spurlock, Heidi Ewing, Eugene Jarecki, Seth Gordon, Rachel Grady, Alex Gibney
Based on the book Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

Is it really ever a good idea to hand the directing reins over to six different people? Granted, I am familiar with Morgan Spurlock's successful venture into fast food addiction, Supersize Me, while Seth Gordon did a marvelous job with The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters and has several directing credits for some of the funniest shows on television today, including Community, Parks and Recreation, and The Office. I've also seen a couple of things by Alex Gibney and Eugene Jarecki and haven't been what went wrong with Freakonomics?

The joy of reading this book by two economists was taking in these almost trivial facets of life that the average American never thinks about: possible match fixing in Sumo wrestling over in Japan, the business end of the Ku Klux Klan, the average earnings of a low level crack dealer, and a whole other slew of random phenomenons that get broken down into numbers and charts by two very smart individuals. Needless to say, I was tickled pink when I found out this was a movie.
To be frank, the movie felt disjointed and at times meaningless. Different narrators clashed with different directors and had you question whether or not you really cared if "Deshawn" had a tactical disadvantage in finding employment and why you weren't surprised when offering money as incentive to inner city Chicago ninth graders for improving grades was moderately successful. In the book, these elements were fun, easy reads that helped you digest what you just read about real estate theory and motive. But put the science of naming black and white children up on screen and the product quickly hits a lull in entertainment.

The pacing was really a point of contention with me as well. Some pieces fit just right; the exploration into cheating in Sumo, while at times trivial for us Americans, was well directed, concise, and beautifully written. On the other foot, we were treated to the Bribing 9th Graders segment, which lasted a good third of the entire movie. I recall this being a blip on the radar in the book, while juicier chapters like the KKK angle, the crack business, and the cheating teacher scandal received little, if any, attention in this documentary.

The points raised in this film would have done better as a miniseries rather than a loosely held together feature film. Another issue I found was the lack of new material--pretty much every directed segment was taken from the book. The idea of Freakonomics is rife with add-ons and expanding viewpoints, both qualities that are obviously pandering to a delectable television show. The writing and content is entertaining, humorously informative, and too well thought out to be rehashed on film by a bajillion different people.
Graphic used to accompany reason why Ashley is becoming a whores name
The cover image of that orange masquerading as an apple says it all--I had no idea what I was getting into watching the film adaptation of Freakonomics. Whether you have read the book or not, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone. It'll do to you one of two things: spoil the whimsical charm of the original literature, or leaved you bored and confused, and possibly angry that you didn't receive cold hard cash for pulling C averages in ninth grade.


The Real Alan Trehern said...

Yeah, that sounds boring. You are right, though, this sounds like an on-going TV show a al MANSWERS.

Anonymous said...

Love the Review, it is currently in my queue (before reading the article).