F.I.L.M. of the Week (February 26, 2015)

26 02 2015

As it turns out, Kevin Spacey has been training to play the role of his life, Frank Underwood, for decades now.  Back in 1995, he starred in “Swimming with Sharks,” a biting satirization of Hollywood’s corporate culture.  But, rest assured, there are no résumé requirements necessary to enjoy the film since it so perfectly captures the experience of working for a hellacious boss.  Writer/director George Huang manages the balance of the specific and the generalizable so well that his debut feature earns my nod for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”

This film saw release long before Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly cast an icy spell over the hot summer moviegoing scene in “The Devil Wears Prada,” and it even predates Spacey’s later turn as a sadistic slavedriver executive in “Horrible Bosses.”  Yet even in spite of the proliferation of the archetype, “Swimming with Sharks” still entertains and enlightens with its valid criticisms of the Hollywood system.

The subject of the film is not Spacey’s bag of hot air masquerading around in a fancy suit, Buddy Ackerman, though.  The events of “Swimming with Sharks” are seen and felt through his latest poor assistant, aptly named Guy (Frank Whaley), who has to endure constant harassment and humiliation until he amasses enough experience to move up in the business.  Buddy boasts all the pedantry and pettiness of Jeremy Piven’s Ari Gold from “Entourage,” although he appears relatively lacking in creativity and productivity to earn the rights to be such a jerk.

What inevitably follows comes with a strange mixture of pity, rage, schadenfreude, and even a little bit of surprising empathy.  Even within the confines of a fairly familiar story, Huang makes his everyman worth rooting for by stacking the odds heavily against him – as well as pitting him against a particularly devilish superior.  Spacey knows how to be scarily threatening with his words, and he also knows how to be scarily vulnerable with his emotions when the time comes.

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2 responses

1 03 2015
Courtney Small

I remember thinking that George Huang was going to be one of the cutting edge indie directors of the future (part of the new wave that was emerging in the 90’s). However, his career took that path though, and never reached such heights. Which is a shame as he displayed a lot of potential with this film.

1 03 2015
Marshall

Yeah, I had never heard of him before watching the movie! I went to look him up on IMDB afterwards, assuming he would have amassed some great credits over the past two decades. Nope. Looks like he was a creative consultant or something on the Spy Kids movies. You’re right: a shame.

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