The new indie comedy Spare Change comes off looking like a pretty harsh indictment of millennial entitlement. Its main character has a job, but doesn’t want to do what it takes to stay in said job, so she turns to playing homeless and begging for money to keep her studio apartment. Her co-conspirator has a job working for her father, which she screws up and winds up jobless next to her friend. Meanwhile, they still eat and drink like normal people, at one point bamboozling a waiter for a free meal.
Angry yet? Yup – that was my reaction as well. Spare Change maybe has one sympathetic character in the whole bunch; the rest are shown to not have grown up or are such physically affected nerds that we can barely stand them, either. The overarching plot’s attempt to make homelessness and poverty some kind of joke rings false and makes the whole movie stink of its shallow, base nature. It seems like the filmmakers and the writer want to pass off whimsy for something more heartfelt and intelligent, but it never succeeds. What writer Stephanie Mathless wants us to feel for these characters, I’ll never know, but it sure as hell isn’t sympathy.
I mean, here we have Jane (Lissa Lauria), a relatively competent twentysomething who chooses to be late because she’s stuck watching TV in the morning and makes flimsy excuses for it. Automatically, we’re made to believe in her lack of ethic, which plays into her decision to masquerade as a homeless beggar when she’s fired after she goes and gets drunk while on the job. She’s got no regard for boss Sheila (Krista Allen) or her authority, basically showing up and taking a paycheck for what seems like little work; what compunction will she have at all about playing suckers for money on the streets?
Truly, I hope you can see why I loathe this character and everything she does over the film’s 97 minutes. She treats her on-again, off-again love interest Aaron (“Glee”’s Curt Mega) with that terrible “I love you / don’t touch me” kind of approach, alternately being pissed off at him because he joined the Peace Corps out of college without asking her and being head-over-heels in love with him. Jane is a contradiction unto herself, and when it all goes wrong (which is wont to happen in films like this), she dares to be surprised and clueless about the situation she’s put herself in.
Riding shotgun is her enabler friend Lily (Elyse Levesque), also recently fired from her job (where her daddy’s the boss). Originally, I thought she was going to be Jane’s conscience – she brings up the negatives of Jane’s beggar plan whilst employed and tries to get Jane back on her feet in a normal way. Yet Lily’s the one who goes to an insane extreme – mapping out where the money is, neighborhoods to avoid, etc. – when her own father calls her to tell her that she’s no longer working for the company. These are the kinds of people that give the poor a bad name, like those people who beg for money at street corners and claim to be homeless military veterans, at the end of the day getting into a car and going to their apartment or house when they think nobody’s looking.
Spare Change is like a cheaper version of Never Been Kissed, or the reboot of 21 Jump Street, where people pretend to be something they’re not. All the typical kinds of tropes and beats you’d expect from a movie like this are recycled here, so at least you know by its predictability what to expect. Mathless writes no tangible consequences for either Jane nor Lily, and co-directors Arturo Guzman and Jonathan Talbert maintain her tone of “overentitled brat” throughout the whole film, thus rendering any kind of lesson or repercussion null and void. It’s a film which extols the virtues of being selfish, which makes me dislike it all the more; if that was their aim, to make people angry about situations like these, then the film did its job well. However, if all Guzman, Talbert, and Mathless wanted to do was to make some kind of lighthearted comedy, this fails on such a social level that I can’t even begin to comprehend it.
I have a big issue with the way that homelessness is treated in this film, as if it’s something to be parodied and for little whiners to claim to be when they don’t want to work. This is writing of the lowest order and not even in tune with the harsher realities of this kind of life; had Jane spent any meaningful time on the streets, she could have been assaulted or killed, or her money could easily have been stolen by other indigents. However, being pretty while wearing smelly clothes makes it okay, doesn’t it? Please. Spare Change reeks of privilege and no passion; it doesn’t dare to delve deeper than the artificial, as if it’s afraid to show you anything harsher than a cute blonde girl with dirt on her face playing dress-up.
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