In the recent words of Kim Kardashian, “I have the best advice for women in business: Get your f---ing a-- up and work. It seems like nobody wants to work these days.” It was the best kind of coincidence for her to give her two bits about the great labor debate just a week before the release of the latest Netflix Original, Charlie McDowell’s Windfall (2022).
Starring Lily Collins, Jesse Plemons, and Jason Segel, this Netflix release tells the story of an unorthodox robbery of a billionaire tech CEO (Plemons) and his wife (Collins). In the first act, the plan is simple for the unnamed robber (Segel), who is credited as “Nobody:” lounge around in the CEO’s vacation house, take some cash, and leave without being noticed. However, things take a turn for the worse when the CEO and Wife arrive on an impromptu getaway. Nobody is able to escape as a free man – until he is caught on camera in a neighboring property.
Defeated, Nobody returns to the vacation house, chases down the CEO, and holds him at gunpoint, demanding money so he can start a new life. The good news? The CEO can assure Nobody five-hundred thousand dollars for him to disappear. The bad news? The money can’t be delivered until the next day, so the trio has about thirty hours to kill together. With the royal couple of tech’s cell phones confiscated, they are left without much to do besides walking around their property, showing Nobody their zen garden, movie projector, and other amenities that they rarely use.
Windfall explores the obvious difference in class between the couple and Nobody. The CEO firmly argues that he deserves his immense wealth and that the poor are poor because they just don’t work as hard. Nobody, however, like most disillusioned American realists, believes that the CEO got to where he is by stepping on the little guy and taking more than what he deserves. Nobody takes it further by pointing out that the CEO isn’t even a good person in his private life, having cheated on his wife and maintained an iron grip on her life choices.
This film is a clear analogy for American billionaires such as Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and the I’m-so-infamous-that-Bo-Burnham-wrote-a-song-about-me Jeff Bezos. Although the story does not elaborate further on this comparison – leaving the impression of a vague, anti-capitalist tweet full of buzzwords – the performances by Collins, Plemons, and Segel save this movie from being unwatchable.
Windfall bears strong ties to Best Picture Winner, Parasite (2019). The ending is honestly quite shameless in its similarities to its fellow class-conscious crime caper especially when the film reaches its climax. Both films end somewhat ambiguously, but unlike Parasite, Windfall attempts to stuff in two extra messages related to personal agency and desperation that were briefly touched on earlier in the movie.
Although many films expertly juggle multiple complex themes, WIndfall drops the ball. As aforementioned, the metaphor of the greed and corruption of American billionaires is explicit if not shallow. The vision is clear, but the characterizations lack nuance. This is something a longer run time than 92 minutes could have possibly fixed. The setup that the CEO is already well-known and that Nobody can’t reveal personal, identifying details, renders the Wife as the most alluring and accessible character. The audience learns the most about her through an intimate conversation she has with Nobody about her choice to marry such a powerful man, yet she’s given a secondary role in most scenes.
Windfall succeeds in creating some gripping scenes, balancing its societal criticism with witty banter and long, lulling sequences to elaborate on how tedious the circumstances of the hostage situation really are. Jesse Plemons is the easy highlight, and in the past few years, his career successes have elevated his talents beyond this type of B-movie. Despite some redeeming qualities, Windfall lacks the punch to distinguish itself from its contemporaries. McDowell’s ultimate pitfall was making too many impersonal statements without saying anything original. But hey, that’s just what Netflix is putting out these days.