I received Michael Covel's new documentary, Broke: The New American Dream
] in the mail about a week ago, and watched it in one sitting. The film describes itself as "a vivid, honest, often humorous and always insightful look at our struggle with investments and retirement." The film is vivid and often humorous - it is peppered with slivers of good advice from 1950s financial films and cartoons - and, in the mold of documentarians like Michael Moore, it focuses mainly on people and less on specifics. That said, Broke
isn't a complete breakdown of what happened and how we got here, or how we'll get out of it.
is an ambitious movie, covering ground from the subprime meltdown to the relationship between the stock market and the "irrational exuberance" targeted by Professor Robert Schiller. For all its ambition, the film does come off as a bit scattered, mixing personal stories with broader (and often vaguer) points about the nature of the financial markets. If you're looking for a detailed analysis of real estate finance or an explanation of the mismanagement by the federal government and Wall Street, you're not likely to find it here - this is more of a media critique, and a critique of the American mindset that we should "get rich quick" through the market rather than doing our research.
The content of the movie, however, isn't as important as the mood it creates. It's a well-cut movie, a high quality production, and it captures the sense of foreboding we all feel about the chaotic state of our economy. Broke
's finest moments come from its analogies: a visit to an Asian fish market is likened to stock trading; the stock market's vagaries are likened (and then differentiated) from playing the lottery. Broke
also convincingly tears down the financial news networks like CNBC, which, as creator Michael Covel sees them, are catering to an audience of news junkies in an attempt to score ratings (a point made in less elegant fashion by Jon Stewart in his grilling of Jim Cramer). In Covel's view, Americans have stupidly allowed themselves to become pawns of the "know-it-alls" who tell them where and when to invest - they've given up the financial autonomy they truly need to make smart investment decisions.
isn't the all-encompassing "recession movie." What Broke
does do in beautiful imagistic fashion, however, is remind us of the situation we now face, even if it doesn't offer specifics for how to get out of it other than a blanket warning to face up to our responsibilities as investors. If we take Covel's advice on that point, we'll all be a lot better off.