Sunday, 7 August 2016
Review The Spoils
by Jesse Eisenberg
There's something of a Jack-in-a-box quality to Ben (Jesse Eisenberg) the central character - it seems a bit much even to call him an anti-hero - in The Social Network star's sharply sour own comedy, 'The Spoils'.
Every time he appears knocked back, defeated, disoriented by too much pot smoking, his wizened, jeering face and wiry body pops up again to taunt those within his orbit.
Mind you, he can afford it. His apartment, prime real estate in the midst of New York, is gifted him by his wealthy Dad (no Mom in sight) who subsidises Ben's lifestyle, passing as a documentary filmmaker, even after expulsion from film school.
Sharing the apartment, overlooking the Empire State Building, is Nepalese MBA student Kalyan (The Big Bang Theory's Kunal Nayyar), living rent free, already a published author of a book on how to bring economic reform to his country.
When Ben runs into soon-to-be married banker Ted (Alfie Allen, one of two superb British replacements for the original off-Broadway 2015 cast), an elementary school contemporary, the scene is set for a dinner party where Ben can exercise his fulsome repertoire of goading skills.
The meal is prepared by sweet-natured Kalyan who is also eager to gain an interview at Ted's prestigious Wall Street firm with his Indian medical intern girlfriend Reshma (Billions' Annapurna Sriram), whom Ben relishes needling, as one of the guests.
Completing an uncomfortable quintet is Ted's fiancée, teacher Sarah (Katie Brayben, the second excellent British cast member, recently seen in My Mother Said I Never Should) who was also a fellow elementary school pupil.
Ben focuses in on Sarah, aiming to break up her relationship with the seemingly amiable Ted while revealing to her a childhood obsession with her of a particularly grotesque scatalogical nature.
It's all terrifically well-acted with memorable characters in an affluent but precarious and savage world.
But in its sitcom-gone-sour mode, while the slick direction by Scott Elliott and performances are inherently theatrical, with the plot hanging on minutiae, this feels like a movie.
What to make of the subject matter?
Watch out for Ben's unexpected anecdotal flash of academic intelligence telling a joke based in US history. Alongside the title 'The Spoils' with its ancient Greek ring of winner-takes-all transmuted into 'To The Victor The Spoils' during a famously corrupt moment in American politics, this may all give a clue.
There is also just a touch of novelist Philip Roth's character of Merry Levov, the dysfunctional fat rich privileged daughter turned anorexic terrorist (soon to be on screen in a movie version) in Ben.
And there's a double edge to the finale. Some may feel it a sentimental cop out but others may see a disturbing channelling of Ben's perverse energies by the banker and educator couple pitching him a cover (up) story as they put him back in his box.
For surely Ted's affable exterior is able to survive in the cut throat Wall Street environment of which we're given a glimpse through Kalyan's account of his interview when he finally wises up to reality outside academic exchange?
'The Spoils' is slick and powerful but can feel somehow incomplete as a stage production, so an amber/green light from TLT and her motorised theatregoing comrade-in-arms. But judge for yourself before the August 13 end of the run.