There’s a large gray area when trying to distinguish between a movie that might as well be on the Hallmark Channel and a movie that actually deserves to make you emotionally invested. 99 Homes lies somewhere in that shady territory. The film clearly has a mission: give the people something they can relate to. If there were anything that 99 Homes is for a fact, relatable might be it. It tells a tale that may be foreign to some, but for many it may be something far more tangible. At the outset, we meet Rick Carver (Michael Shannon), a real estate mogul who seems to have a bone to pick with every poor soul that can’t keep up on taxes. Shortly after, we are introduced to Dennis (Andrew Garfield), who finds himself trying his best to keep his son in school and his mother happy while the three of them cling desperately to their family home. After Dennis and his family are evicted by Carver, we see him become the monster that he once loathed when he resorts to aiding Carver in foreclosures to get his home back.
Before the film’s festival screening, writer/director Ramin Bahrani came on stage and essentially told us all that we were about to see a movie about the housing crisis and how he hoped it would be something we could relate to, and that’s exactly what we saw. The thing to remember about films like 99 Homes – movies that live and die by the festival circuit – is that they aren’t just trying to win Oscars, they’re trying to entertain those who love film. This movie might do okay in theaters if it gets a wide release, but like many of Bahrani’s past films, it simply doesn’t have the box office appeal of a majority of its competition. It’s an indie film in every sense of the word. The acting was right where it needed to be, the cinematography was adequate at best, and the story itself, although trying its best to be a parable for the American Dream, fell a bit flat. Being relatable, in fact, was the film’s biggest flaw. It seemed that instead of pursuing characters in the interesting manner that they should be pursued, Bahrani only wanted to make them as normal as possible. Although Garfield did a very good job with his portrayal of a construction worker working paycheck to paycheck, there really wasn’t anything about that construction worker that made me care to see where he ended up. Everyone in the film – except for Shannon’s character, who was entirely invested in being above average – was ultimately a bland version of Joe the Plumber.
Personally, I don’t want to see a movie about people who could move in down the block and not raise an eyebrow. Most moviegoers head to the theaters to see characters that excite them, not dilute their interest. I’m no fan of Marvel, but I would rather be wowed by a caped crusader than watch a movie about something that happens on a daily basis in every part of this country. Putting aside the artistic integrity for a minute, 99 Homes was very well intentioned, yet it hardly lived up to the concept it strived to portray. It’s good to see movies that try to inspire people and add to the industry in a positive way, but if a movie doesn’t revolve around overly motivated characters then it can’t really make its audience motivated to care about them. It was as if the movie tried to base itself on a true story that millions of people have personally experienced, which is never a good recipe for storytelling. At the end of the day, 99 Homes might just belong on the wrong side of the line between desperate and powerful. I won’t be seeing this film again, but hey, I’ve never been evicted, so who am I to judge it?