The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street ★★½

I could scream on and on about how bad I wanted to like this. I mean, it's about the American dream of greed and hedonism gone awry, AND it's directed by Scorsese. And given the positive reception it's gotten, it seemed right up my ally. I was truly, truly excited for this one.

Unfortunately, out of the number of films from last year that dealt with the subversion of the American dream (Spring Breakers, The Great Gatsby, Pain & Gain, et. al.), The Wolf of Wall Street has got to be one of the worst. I understand the intentions behind its excess, even behind the highlighting of such decadence with its 3-hour length. However, it was tedious, and I felt that the story - or at least the aims behind the story - went nowhere even after two-thirds worth of exposition. After our protagonist gets going with his career, the progression of the narrative feels at a total standstill, and we're left twiddling our thumbs waiting for something surprising to happen.

And maybe it's because I was already expecting it prior to my viewing, but the copious amounts of drugs and sex, to me, wasn't that "something surprising". All it seemed to do was contribute to the low-brow sense of humor promoted by the film that was just so embarrassing to watch. One could argue that it was intended to be a satire of the obnoxious minds of those who occupy Wall Street, but I think the fact that the film itself expects us to find humor and enjoyment from its daring farce (rather than any inkling of shock or dismay) shows its lack of respect for its audience. Moreover, although the Lemmon scene was mildly impressive in terms of physical comedy, it was mostly just annoying and dragged on for far longer than necessary. I think the portrayal of such extravagance may have been more effective if the film offered some amount of depth or criticism to juxtapose with the otherwise desultory showing of Belfort's lavish lifestyle. It often felt very aimless, and the fact that we get barely any sense of character development until the end shows its weakness and inconsistencies.

I'm sure that all the performances were probably decent to great (at least DiCaprio shows a fair amount of range here), but I wouldn't be able to tell given the fact that nearly every performer was given a poorly-written, not very well thought-out role. The writer seems to think that the only means of showing intense emotion is by adding variations of the word "fuck" to every spoken sentence of dialogue. Many say that this is Scorsese returning to form, but I think that in many ways, this film so badly wants to be Goodfellas. From the rags-to-riches-to-rags tale, to the voice-over narration, to Beni-fuckin'-hana!. Et fuckin' cetera.

While it seems I'm a bit ragey about this film, I don't exactly hate it. The main problem is that it doesn't give much to love or hate. It's ambitious in its raciness, but eye-rollingly typical in damn near everything else. I probably enjoyed Jonah Hill the most, although Matthew McConaughey was pretty enjoyable in the (deceptively) little screen time he had. Given that this is the first Scorsese film in a while that takes a not-so-gentle step away from "safe" entertainment, it's actually not all that hard to see why it's received such a praise, critically and otherwise; to me, however, it ain't worth the hype.

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