Losing your job is usually pretty damn traumatic, but in the recent wave of recession-themed movies like ‘Larry Crowne’ and ‘The Company Men,’ it’s just the first step in creating a happier, more fulfilled life than you had in the first place. Yeah, right.
While we appreciate Hollywood’s attempt to sympathize with us common folk who are struggling to make ends meet, seeing Tom Hanks or Ben Affleck turn their lay-offs into life lessons makes for an uneasy mix of economics and escapism. We love a happy ending as much as anybody, but a lot of those happily ever afters ring more than a little false.
Of course, Hollywood tends to find a big fat silver lining in just about everything, whether it’s getting left at the altar or shot in the head, so upbeat movies about job less aren’t a big shock. If you want gritty realism on the financial crisis, rent a documentary.
1. ‘Tower Heist’ (2011)
We’re looking forward to this timely comedy with Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, and Casey Affleck in which a group of guys find out they’ve all been taken by a Bernie Madoff-type’s Ponzi scheme and hatch a scheme to rob his ultra-posh penthouse. Consider us on board any movie where regular guys get revenge on the dirty rich.
2. ‘Larry Crowne’ (2011)
Time magazine dismissed this gentle Tom Hanks tale as a “too rosy vision of life after the pink slip.” He loses his job and then finds love, a new set of friends, hip new threads and the joys of scooter riding. Wow, getting laid off looks awesome!
Alcoholic Nick (Will Ferrell) has only himself to blame when he loses his wife and job. His choice to live on the lawn of the house that he’s now been locked out of, surrounded by all his possessions, is a bold one. We have some sympathy for the guy, whose life has now become a sad yard sale. The neighbors are indie-movie quirky, but there are no big laughs or emotional payoffs in this melancholy tale, which is sort of refreshingly real.
4. ‘Bridesmaids’ (2011)
A little box-office irony: This raucous femme-centric comedy may have raked in the big bucks, but the heroine at the heart of the story is $ 40,000 in debt. Annie (Kristen Wiig)’s a victim of the economic downturn who was forced to close her dream business, a bakery called Cake Baby. Which just proves you can have your comedy cake with a pinch of reality and still laugh your ass off.
After losing their father and their Beverly Hills mansion, two spoiled sisters must move in with their Aunt and trade their BMWs for bus passes. Along the way, they learn to embrace their Latina roots, find romance, and become much nicer people. Because only by losing it all can you find yourself, Hollywood has always preached.
6. ‘Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps’ (2010)
Oliver Stone’s follow-up to his ’80s classic on greed is a fascinating peek inside the lives of the super-rich, but even when Shia LaBeouf has lost millions, he’s still got more than most of us will ever have. The life lessons here: Don’t trust Michael Douglas and greed is still not good.
This drama from ‘ER’ creator John Wells is actually one of the more realistic takes on the unemployment crisis, but it still struck the wrong chord with a lot of viewers who found it hard to sympathize with a hot-shot salesman (Ben Affleck) whose lowest moment is when he’s forced to sell his Porsche. He’s offered a construction job and is realistically terrible at it, but everything still works out in the end.
8. ‘Up in the Air’ (2009)
George Clooney learns the value of opening his heart and sharing his frequent flier miles in this Oscar-nominated indie. It’s a better-than-average mix of feel-good Hollywood moments and an acknowledgment that real people are experiencing real pain as jobs are cut by the thousands, as brought home by the interviews at the end with actual people — not actors — who’ve lost their livelihoods.
It’s hard to feel sorry for this Carrie Bradshaw wannabe who digs her own financial hole because she can’t stop shopping. Oh, boo hoo hoo, honey. Call us when you have to decide between paying your rent or your electricity bill instead of between a Prada or Gucci handbag.
10. ‘Post Grad’ (2009)
Alexis Bledel is a college grad who’s forced to move back in with her parents when, despite dozens of interviews, she can’t land any job other than at her dad’s luggage store. It’s something a lot of grads can relate to, but how many of them would pass on that dream job (when it comes along) to pursue Mr. Right? Love is grand, but it doesn’t pay the rent, does it?
High-powered exec Renee Zellweger is shipped out to the boonies to make some hard decisions, like (gasp!) closing the plant and putting an entire community out of work. That won’t do, since she’s found a hunky guy worth sticking around for and the locals are so nice. One of them even has a winning tapioca pudding recipe that will save the day, proving that being cute, folksy or in love means never having to lose your job, at least in Hollywood.
12. ‘Zack & Miri Make a Porno’ (2008)
How often does a financial crisis lead to finding your soulmate and a major career upgrade? In the movies, all the time, but not everybody gets there via amateur porn, a la under-employed platonic roommates Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks). So hey, coffee-shop and mall employees of America, why not give porn an (ahem) shot?
Diane Keaton finds her luxurious lifestyle downsized when her husband is laid off and she must get her own job (the horror!) on a cleaning crew. Luckily, her workplace is the Federal Reserve Bank, which just happens to have lots of cash laying around. We buy that her coworkers are equally broke, but we don’t buy Katie Holmes as trailer trash and Queen Latifah made a better bank robber in ‘Set It Off.’