[TIFF Review] ‘HUMAN CAPITAL’ sees an exceptional ensemble driving an intriguing story with disappointing results

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James Clay // Film Critic

HUMAN CAPITAL

Rated R, 95 minutes.
Director: Marc Meyers
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Marrisa Tomei, Peter Sarsgaard, Maya Hawke and Alex Wolff

TORONTO – Few films are as laughable as HUMAN CAPITAL. Marc Meyers’ drama revolves around a Rashomon-like structure, switching perspectives after a fatal car crash claims the life of a biker one night in a winding road. 

Based on Stephen Amidon’s 1977 novel (and a remake of Pablo Vrizi’s 2013 Italian film of the same name), HUMAN CAPITAL is transferred to upstate New York following an intertwined story that achieves mixed results. Following the disappointing trend of American remakes from European films (like AFTER THE WEDDING and GLORIA), there are reasons to stick to the original when seeking out these stories. Hopefully, the do-overs of FORCE MAJEURE and TONI ERDMANN stay on the shelf. 

The film boasts an impressive cast, including Liev Scheider, Marisa Tomei, Peter Sarsgaard, Alex Wolfe, and STRANGER THINGS breakout star Maya Hawke. They are all attempting to craft characters who have an incredible amount of depth. But unfortunately, the film doesn’t support them and sees their characters swimming in ludicrousness.

It is surprising given that Oren Moverman (LOVE & MERCY, THE DINNER and TIME OUT OF MIND) wrote the screenplay. To much surprise, his story never rectifies the questions it asks and instead serves up too easy answers for a situation that’s far more complicated. As far as stories about the lives and relationships of upper-middle-class social climbers go, there’s some entertainment value to a film that has characters who display varying levels of ineptitude. 

The story begins with floundering real estate agent Drew (Schreiber). He’s dropping off his daughter, Shannon (Hawke), at her boyfriend Jamie’s (Fred Hechinger) parents’ elegant home. In complete admiration of the estate, Drew wanders around until he finds himself in a tennis match with hotshot venture capitalist Quint (Sarsgaard), the father of Shannon’s boyfriend. All too easily they begin rubbing elbows as Drew’s real motive is a risky investment. 

As his investment becomes more cause of concern, the story is retold from the perspective of Quint’s wife, Carrie (Marissa Tomei). She’s a former actress of little fame who is dissatisfied (for good reason) with being put on a pedestal like a trophy wife. Carrie seizes the opportunity to reform a rundown old theater into a modern art center with her husband’s money. With talks of hedge funds, interest rates, and board meetings, the film becomes so muddled in explaining that it ignores the human connections at the center.

To no avail, Meyers fashions the narrative as a piece of high art, revealing sides of our social complexes that go unnoticed. Not without intrigue, there still isn’t enough social commentary to warrant its existence. The series of events that take place are intriguing, more or less, as we start to figure out what happened to the biker in the second and third acts. New yarns are introduced while the rest of the narrative stays on track and the promise of a satisfying ending becomes less apparent. 

HUMAN CAPITAL is surface level to a fault. It’s a film that desperately wants to feel grown-up. It cannot help its eagerness to please its audience. The setting and the cast of actors (including Alex Wolff from HEREDITARY, who makes a late entrance) are bundled into a social thriller that underwhelms. 

Grade: C+

HUMAN CAPITAL premiered at Toronto International Film Festival. Encore screenings will be held on September 10, 11 and 14. Visit tiff.net for more information. The film is currently seeking distribution. A release date is to be announced.