Certain movies do not require hours and hours to tell their stories. Stone cold classics like Run Lola Run, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Toy Story all clock in at less than 90 minutes each. Likewise, a shorter run-time suits schlocky horror-comedies such as Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil or the delightfully zany Canadian offering Curtain — which is about, well, a haunted curtain. In the case of the 85-minute New Money, the latest effort from Austrian-American writer-director Jason B. Kohl, some extra time may have made all the difference.
The setup, similar to Run Lola Run or the tense (and also surprisingly short) Phone Booth is ruthlessly simple: a lowly pet shop worker, after being unceremoniously cut out of her father’s will, decides to kidnap him and extort the money she feels is owed to her. Indeed, New Money starts things off slowly but surely, with Amanda Treyz’s chilly cinematography beautifully capturing the wintry Michigan landscape with a smudgy palette of washed-out blues, greys and browns.
Billions actress Louisa Krause is protagonist Debbie, a young woman living on the fringes of society with a dead-end job and a whole heap of bills she can’t pay. Debbie is introduced as someone just trying to get by, finding the brighter moments in her dull workday by talking to a cute rabbit and snorting crushed-up Oxycontin off the sink. It’s this lingering drug addiction that causes her ailing father to cut Debbie out of his will, at the urging of her stepmother, Rose (Deadwood’s Rogin Weigert), a kind but no-nonsense lady who understandably wishes to spend the last remaining moments of life with her dementia-addled husband in peace.
Debbie, on the other hand, just wants a better life with her similarly addiction-afflicted boyfriend Steve (Brendan Sexton III, most recently seen in Netflix hit Russian Doll). So, in a moment of insanity, Debbie breaks into her father’s home and then abducts him with Steve so they can force the poor man to write the check that will supposedly solve all of their problems. After retiring to a country pile and wreaking havoc with the man’s platinum card, they seem to be home free. But Rose is hot on their tail with law enforcement in tow.
New Money is a funny little film. It begins as a relatively low stakes tale of a desperate woman just trying to get by, before abruptly switching gears into this strange, high-stakes crime thriller that kind of goes nowhere. Once the couple is holed up in their hideout, the action slows to a complete stop while they essentially wait to be caught. There’s no tension whatsoever, no sense of suspense. Debbie isn’t an entirely sympathetic character, but she’s not unsympathetic either. However, she’s paired up with loser Steve, so it’s difficult to understand what her motivations are. And their plan makes zero sense (it could be chalked up to desperation, but even that is a stretch).
Essentially, New Money’s Debbie and Steve are mostly terrible people with modest aspirations but no means of achieving them without abducting and robbing a sick old man. Debbie oscillates between caring for and being impatient with her father. It’s an understandable and somewhat realistic take, but it doesn’t serve the story particularly well because of how horrible it is to watch her manipulate this poor man. Likewise, Steve’s sudden outbursts of violence make him seem utterly sadistic. When he’s not lashing out, he’s lazing around, barely even existing as a human being.
Krause and Sexton are both capable actors, but neither is convincing as a desperate drug addict. They’re snorting Oxy because they’re too poor for heroin (or too proud, maybe) but they also seem a bit too coherent most of the time. Rose finds all of their unpaid bills and an apartment in disarray, but there’s nothing to suggest these two aren’t just barely making ends meet. The whole crux of the story relies on their desperation, but the couple appears lazy and loaded up with self-entitlement rather than as poor kids in need of a break. Neither seems to be in withdrawal at any stage either, which is hugely confusing.
Kohl’s point may be about struggling adults hiding from their families in plain sight, but it’s never fully clear why these two decide to take such drastic measures for something they could clearly have organized at home. Maybe it’s to buy time — out of necessity or in the heat of the moment? The questions New Money poses are numerous and mostly left unanswered. The film is scattershot at times and tonally inconsistent throughout, flirting with elements of a crime thriller and a goofy comedy. The cop who initially shows up to assist Rose is like a Seann William Scott character; Officer Stifler if you will.
Elsewhere, Rose breaks down in tears mid-workout, and then meets with a private investigator assisted by a kid whose mounting student loans are a near constant (humorous?) source of discussion. New Money jumps from scene to scene with no real sense of cohesion. There’s nothing propelling the story forward aside from Rose’s desire to find her husband. There’s even a shootout at one stage, albeit minor, that results in casualties shed almost entirely by the film’s too-blunt editing (characters are seemingly cut off mid-sentence on more than one occasion). Debbie nags Steve by saying “Steeeeeeve” over and over. It’s that kind of movie.
There simply isn’t a lot of nuance to the story, which is the main issue with New Money. It’s a real shame because there’s a lot of heart and a clear desire to showcase stories rarely told onscreen, whether it’s that of the struggling middle class drug addict or the aging stepmother caring for her ailing husband. Krause has a likable screen presence; she has a naiveté to her, so it’s hard not to root for Debbie even as she constantly does the wrong thing. But Krause cannot carry New Money’s story by herself.
New Money’s supporting characters fare less well, but there’s solid work from Weigert, who brings depth to a somewhat underwritten role. Maybe with a longer running time there would’ve been more room to explore the story and let it breathe. But, as it stands, New Money starts strong, treads water for a bit and then ends with a rather abrupt shrug. There’s no substance to it aside from Krause’s committed performance in the lead role, some lovely cinematography and the initial combination of these two disparate stories.
New Money, then, much like its central couple, has big aspirations but lacks the means to achieve them.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.