'Affluenza': Film Review

A shallow film about shallow people.

Kevin Asch's ("Holy Rollers") sophomore feature is a teen-oriented, modern-day variation on "The Great Gatsby."

Aiming to be a modern-day variation on The Great Gatsby for the teen set, Affluenza strikes many a familiar chord in its story of a young man of modest means who finds himself plunked down in suburban New York high society. Taking place in the summer of 2008 just before the financial crisis, Kevin Asch’s (Holy Rollers) sophomore feature attempts to tackle weighty themes but ultimately feels as shallow as the lives of most of its principal characters.

The Nick Carraway-like protagonist is Fisher Miller (Ben Rosenfield, Greetings From Tim Buckley), a young aspiring photographer who has come to Great Neck to spend the summer with his wealthy stockbroker uncle, Phil (Steve Guttenberg), his wife, Bunny (Samantha Mathis), and his beautiful cousin Kate (Nicola Peltz, Transformers: Age of Extinction). Thanks to his prodigious supply of pot, which he’s more than willing to share, Fisher quickly ingratiates himself with his new companions, including rich neighbor Dylan (Gregg Sulkin), Kate’s boyfriend Todd (Grant Gustin), and her sexy friend Jody (Valentina de Angelis).

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Much to his amazement, Fisher and Jody soon hook up, while Dylan offers to have his CEO father (Roger Rees) help Fisher get into art school if he’ll help him score with his cousin. As the summer proceeds, various romantic and socioeconomic tensions come into play, with Fisher becoming increasingly disenchanted with the emotional vapidity and hypocrisy surrounding him.

The rambling narrative offers little in the way of dramatic events — the young people are involved in a minor car accident, Bunny is revealed to be having an affair, Fisher constantly photographs his newfound friends — until it reaches its climax with the financial meltdown, illuminated by archival clips of comments by the likes of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. As a result of the deteriorating economy, Uncle Phil is left virtually penniless even as his marriage is falling apart.

Antonio Macia’s screenplay fails to provide intriguing aspects to the characters while hammering home its themes in unsubtle bluntness.

“What’s the point of making all this money if you can’t connect with the people that you love?” asks Fisher at one point.

The performers handle their archetypal roles in mostly predictable fashion, with only Guttenberg, sporting a schlubby look and demeanor, reaching true emotional depths as his character hits bottom.

Tech credits are polished, with the glamorously sexy costumes worn by the young actresses and the opulent settings on Long Island’s North Shore providing an air of verisimilitude.

Production: Lookbook Films, M.E.G.A. Films
Cast: Ben Rosenfield, Gregg Sulkin, Nicola Peltz, Grant Gustin, Steve Guttenberg, Samantha Mathis, Valentina de Angelis
Director: Kevin Asch
Screenwriter: Antonio Macia
Producers: Kevin Asch, Morris S. Levy
Executive producers: Dan Caffee, Ike S. Franco, Samuel V. Franco, Andrew Levitas, Anthony Marino, Barry Rohrssen, Sam Zietz
Director of photography: Timothy Gillis
Production designer: Dara Wishingrad
Costume designer: Angelique Pesce
Editor: Suzanne Spangler
Composer: MJ Mynarski

No rating, 85 minutes