Thursday, July 28, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Fighting For Her Right

Anna Gunn walks the streets of New York in "Equity."
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Anna Gunn Fights For Her Right To Be Unapologetically Powerful and Rich in "Equity." (And Don't Try to Placate Her with a Cookie!)

"TRY THE Tasmanian sea trout."

That is one of Anna Gunn's first lines in the new movie, "Equity," opening tomorrow. It is delivered with such silky, sexy authority, that it stuck in my mind.

Later, when Gunn's authority has been challenged and her career as an investment banker is teetering, she has more than a few choice lines about a chocolate chip cookie. (It has been offered to her as calming nibble, in the midst of disaster and betrayal. It does not calm her down. The cookie in fact represents, at that moment, all that has gone wrong. The audience gave Gunn's cookie freak-out a joyfully tumultuous round of applause.)
"EQUITY" was screened on Tuesday night at MoMA, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, The Cinema Society, Bloomberg and Thomas Pink (of Pink dress shirts fame.)

There is a much quoted maxim that in the worlds of movies and literature there are only seven basic plots, and all others spring from those. "Equity" rather obviously employs at least two, and the film comes across, in the end, like a dark mash-up on "Wall Street" and "All About Eve." It could be subtitled, "All About IPO."

I might have come away feeling less queasy about "Equity" had the director Meera Menon not spoken before the movie screened. She and Michael Barker of Sony Pictures, stressed the predominance of women in the movie, and behind the scenes — the script was written by Amy Fox and Sarah Megan Thomas. Also one of the stars, Alysia Reiner, acted as a producer, as well. (In fact, most of the producers and exec producers are women.)

There was some effort in the opening remarks to link "Equity" to female empowerment ... the unembarrassed and unalloyed ambitious woman ... the ongoing Democratic convention ... breaking glass ceilings, etc. One or both of them admitted that they'd hoped "Equity" would open right now, as Hillary Clinton becomes the first female nominated to run for president of the United States.
Girl Power — Alysia Reiner, Anna Gunn, and Sarah Megan Thomas at Tuesday night's screening at Sixty Five in NYC.
Female empowerment was also the theme for Alysia Reiner, Meera Menon and Sarah Megan Thomas at the Philadelphia premiere of "Equity."
That's all fine and well. Then we saw the movie. And what did we see? Women backstabbing each other, 24/7 ... the corruption that comes with power ... the love of money (not necessarily a bad thing, but hardly a noble endeavor here) ... women (and men) behaving with utter craven ruthlessness. The only relatable — if tough and no-nonsense — character is Anna Gunn's Naomi, who advises other women to embrace the idea of working for money; that financial security, aside from being an intelligent way to conduct one's professional/personal life, is powerful and exciting in and of itself. "Don't be afraid of it" she says.
High-powered businesswoman Naomi Bishop played by Anna Gunn.
In short, "Equity" tells us what we already know, but it delivers the message in a gloomy, almost dystopian atmosphere of suspicion, grievances, and ugly disregard — women are just as capable as men in the matter of doing what's necessary to get ahead. Even if it means betraying an old friend, or one's boss. (Memo to all who lift up talented people and bring them close, businesswise. When that talented, dedicated person says, with a strained face: "I feel I have been undercompensated for the past several years," pay attention. Because you might end up being escorted from your office by security, sans job.)

Somehow I do not think Hillary Clinton, or many other professional women would want to be compared or linked to the females who plot so assiduously in "Equity."
I WASN'T bored by "Equity" which contains excellent performances from Sarah Megan Thomas as Anna Gunn's nerve-wracked "undercompensated" partner Erin, James Purefoy as her lover, with whom she doesn't talk shop (not that her discretion keeps her out of trouble.) Skulking around as well are Samuel Roukin, Sophie von Hasselberg, Carrie Preston, Lee Tergesen, Margaret Colin, Craig Bierko and James Naughton. We also have Alysia Reiner, a prosecutor looking to lock somebody up. Her femme fatale/cozy old pal tactics are laughably obvious. Perhaps they are meant to be? (Fans of "Orange is The New Black" will recognize Reiner as the rock hard, long-legged, spike-heeled administrative prison official, Natalie Figueroa.)
James Purefoy as Anna Gunn's lover, Michael Connor.
Alysia Reiner as Samantha.
This is, however, Anna Gunn's film. Famous as Bryan Cranston's initially horrified, eventually complicit wife, Skyler, in "Breaking Bad" she is a powerful presence in "Equity." She's great-looking but not at all typical, especially not as Hollywood's version of a woman in control. There's something compellingly graceless and openly determined about her movements — no seamless gliding down hallways, a la, "House of Cards" strong lady Robin Wright/Claire Underwood. Gunn's Naomi is more grounded, earthier. She puts her cards on the table. You do root for Gunn. (Be honest, one might root for Claire, but only because there's the feeling she might reach through the TV screen and throttle you!)
In the end, I certainly didn't feel the movie itself lifted women up, although it's more than encouraging that "Equity" was such a female-heavy endeavor. To be honest, I found the recent "Tallulah" movie, with Allison Janney, Ellen Page and a stunning Tammy Blanchard, a far more effective example of some women's issues. There were problems but in the end, positivity. Maybe I'm simply getting to the point of wanting reasonably "happy" endings.

Also, there were so many dangling plot points, that as the lights went up at MoMA, I thought, spontaneously: "Oh, I wonder what happens next week?" I was not surprised to later learn from the attractive, charming (and tall!) Sarah Megan Thomas, that the material has been picked up to become a TV series! No word yet, according to Sarah on casting — will all the film characters return? At least Miss Gunn as Naomi and Sarah as Erin, who certainly have unresolved issues!
Sarah Megan Thomas as Anna's "undercompensated" partner Erin.
THE PARTY after at Bar SixtyFive (on the 65th floor of 30 Rock) attracted such as Ray Liotta — still hot, sporting a thick shock of steel gray hair ... Alan Alda ... Chuck Scarborough ... Rosanna Scotto ... Eve Plumb ... Laura Bell Bundy ... Adam Glassman ... Paul Haggis ... Scott Gorenstein ... Pat Cleveland. And even for an Andrew Saffir event, a dazzling array of young and beautiful types whose names perhaps are only known to those to "know" them well.
Tom Bernard, Sarah Megan Thomas, Alysia Reiner, Amy Fox, Anna Gunn, Meera Menon, and Michael Barker.
Sarah Megan Thomas. Meera Menon.
Arlene and Alan Alda
Kiera Chapman and Emily Fine. Amy Fox and Alysia Reiner.
Ray Liotta.
Sophie von Haselberg. Sam Roukin.
John Hein, Mitzi Akaha, and Joseph Huffman.
Sarah Megan Thomas. Christiane Seidel and Alysia Reiner.
Richard Johnson and Gerry Byrne.
June Ambrose and Alysia Reiner. Margaret Colin.
I SPENT most of my time schmoozing with smart, blonde and bawdy Manhattan/Southampton socialite Debbie Bancroft and her blonde and alluring son, Will, who appeared to be juggling the potential appearance of three young ladies — one did arrive. She looked a bit like Lindsay Lohan on a good day — one in which LL isn't drunk and screaming from London balconies.

Debbie Bancroft — "One martini is all right. Two are too many, and three are not enough."
"Darling, get mommy a martini!" Debbie said at one point. Then when she asked Will to fetch her a knife to cut her food, I remarked, "You have seen 'Pyscho' haven't you?" She fell about laughing. Debbie is refreshingly normal and approachable.

We had a good time gossiping about Patty Hearst's daughter, the lovely Lydia, soon to marry Chris Hardwick. We all agreed that Patty is a divine woman, who really was done wrong back in the day, but those were scary, paranoid times.

This column very rarely criticizes how people look and what they wear, but Debbie was up for some wicked dissing so we went down that road — not for publication, but good/bad fun. (What studio exec's pants were absurdly long and wrinkled ... how many women were risking their ankles on gravity-defying shoes ... why so many ill-fitting, un-tucked shirts — on young women!) She also had a keen eye for almost every good-looking guy in the place. And she preferred them in looser pants. "More mystery!"

Her son Will works at CAA here in NYC, but Debbie sees him eventually heading to L.A. "That's where it happens, unless you're in theater or art, or in finance. Maybe he'll go into acting, he's got the looks." She then added, "You know, many of the women I encounter from Wall Street behave like the ones in this movie, but I'm not qualified to judge if that's good or bad or simply inevitable."

We were joined by Anne Chaisson of the Hamptons Film Festival who immediately invited us up to the fests gala events in October. I said I hated traveling all that way by bus. Not comfy.

Debbie Bancroft sighed dramatically: "Darling, I'll drive you up, you needn't mingle with the masses." My kind of gal.

Photographs by Patrick McMullan

Contact Liz here.