Starring Steve Coogan. Rated 14A
The blinding whiteness of late-stage capitalism and Steve Coogan’s teeth vie for dominance in this hit-and-miss satire of society eating itself out of planetary house and home.
Virtually everything the star does as Richard “Greedy” McReadie, Britain’s worst fictional billionaire, hits well enough here. It’s a testimony to Coogan’s comic talents and our unhealthy fascination with unbridled wealth that we somehow keep rooting for the guy, even as every layer of the monetary onion is pulled back by writer-director Michael Winterbottom, revealing ever bigger stinks underneath.
The on-screen peeling is done by a seemingly feckless journalist, Nick, played by David Mitchell, a Mike Myers–ish figure familiar to U.K. TV watchers but relatively unknown over here. He’s been hired to write an “approved” biography of Sir Richard, and we’re given some youthful background as to how McCreadie got so greedy. As with The Sopranos and Sigmund Freud, most troubles start with Mother—although one could argue that the bigger problem here came with casting Shirley Henderson as Coogan’s mum, since they’re exactly the same age. This is justified, presumably, by the flashbacks with her enabling the lad in his selfish ways.
Pointedly resembling a certain thin-skinned blowhard currently bedevilling U.S. politics, but with a much sharper tongue, the adult McReadie is only in it for the winning. The sole part of any deal he enjoys is driving the other party down. From a tough parliamentary inquiry and Nick’s interviews with financial experts, we learn that Sir Dick has never followed through on any aspect of the High Street fashion business except for the making-money part. (The character is loosely based on Sir Philip Green, disgraced founder of the Topshop chain.)
The journalist’s travels eventually take him to Sri Lanka, and the textile sweatshops that give the film some heart, and provide background to one of the rich man’s many assistants (cast standout Dinita Gohill). She’s helping him plan a 60th- birthday party on the Greek isle of Mykonos, where the family dramedy (with Isla Fisher as indulgent ex and Asa Butterworth as angry scion) gets downright Oedipal at times.
Winterbottom has often worked with Coogan, as in 24 Hour Party People and The Trip to Spain, and if the new film resembles Veep and In the Loop at times, that might be because the director is here collaborating with Armando Ianucci’s frequent writing-and-producing partner Sean Gray. Their intentions, amid the intermittent laughs, are surprisingly serious.