Cannot make your minimum monthly credit card payments? Try setting spending limits, consolidating your debt, filing for bankruptcy or committing suicide.
In “Maxed Out,” an expose-style documentary by director and producer James D. Scurlock, the last and most drastic solution is not so far-fetched.
A businessman and first-time documentary film director, Scurlock sets out to document the credit-crazed American society that just cannot say “no” and the credit card companies that prey on it.
As the turbulent themes unfold, debt-ridden college students commit suicide. A housewife drives her car off a bridge to avoid creditors. One woman struggles unsuccessfully to convince creditcard companies that she is not dead. When in fact, it is her daughter who has died, thereby forcing her to relive the loss.
Scurlock, who is a former restaurateur, recognizes that no controversial documentary is any good these days without poking fun at President Bush.”Maxed Out” uses footage of Bush one-liners to excite viewers, who are by now looking for someone to blame for the issues raised in the film.
Congress needs a fiscal straightjacket to curb its spending, Bush says. In one scene, the president says, “There isn’t as much money around here (in) the White House as there used to be,” in response to budget questions.
“Maxed Out” capitalizes on comparing failed federal level decision-making, such as using loans from Social Security to also make minimum payments, to the average American’s debt, thereby giving credit mismanagement a wider scope.
More people will annually file for bankruptcy than graduate from college, get Cancer, or get divorced, the film shows.
And credit companies do not mind. In fact, preferred costumers are those who have proven to have an appetite for credit by, for example, making minimum payments or having a history of bankruptcy.
This way, “Death becomes the only form of debt discharge,” Harvard law professor Elizabeth Warren says.
The fast editing jumps from black and white footage of Mr. Money teaching feeble-minded 1950s teenagers about credit and responsibility, to recent Senate hearings on bankruptcy laws, to ruthless debt collectors.
Editor Alexis Spraic corners the film into a clich? of a documentary by using close-ups of sweaty debt collectors laughing at the indebted, and a cobra representing credit card companies roams around to eerie music, while looking for victims.
Debt collectors who make money from buying peoples’ debt from credit card companies and then harassing them to pay up, admit in scenes in low-lit restaurant corners that they would not shy away from calling a relative to get them to pay off a debt.
One man says he considers this career a “fun business.”
This type of footage is usually edited to follow grim information, such as cases of debtor suicides.
The film never addresses what happens if the debt collectors are ignored. Do they always get paid? What happens to people who keep hanging up on them? Posing these questions to the collectors, who in reality cannot do anything but harass, would have made them less scary, which was probably not the angle Scurlock wanted to take.
The film confuses the viewers by making them read facts and figures on a black screen while an entirely different conversation is taking place simultaneously.
The Senate hearings on bankruptcy show representatives from Chase Manhattan, Citigroup, Bank of America and other banks getting out of responding to allegations of fraud because the Senate does not have time to question them. It is suggested that this is because banks’ aggressive lobbying, legislatures are often lenient toward them.
The soundtrack is too suggestive and almost intrusive. Queen’s “Under Pressure” signifies alarming information being presented throughout the film. Coldplay’s “Trouble,” with lyrics like “never meant to cause you trouble, and I never meant to do you wrong,” coincides with a debt-ridden widow’s thoughts of suicide.
All sensationalism aside, “Maxed Out” effectively reminds the viewer to make responsible financial decisions.
“Maxed Out” opens March 9 in select cities.