Director Paolo Virzì’s multi-sided moral fable Human Capital took home the Best Picture award last year from the equivalent of the Italian Oscars, managing somehow to best Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, which happened to bag an actual Oscar. While Virzi’s film isn’t half as good as Sorrentino’s, it must be said that Human Capital is pretty, gripping and has the aura of greatness, even if it does come off a little too much like another Oscar winner, 2006’s Crash.

Human Capital’s story is based on a novel by the same name by American writer Stephen Amidon. While the original plot unfolds on the East Coast, it seems to transfer just as well to modern-day Italy. The drama all pivots on a single event: a nighttime hit-and-run that ends up leaving a cyclist dead. That crime is the first thing shown before the film breaks into four chapters, each of which follows a central character during the same stretch of time. You’ve seen this device before, in Crash, for instance, and it’s deployed effectively here. No points for originality, but you get the picture.

The central characters are all from of two families, one of which is super rich and one that’s not. The first encountered is the father of the not rich family. He’s a charismatic but grating fool whose daughter is dating the eldest son of the wealthy family. With his skill at tennis, the fool rubs elbows with Richie Rich’s dad, who manages a hedge fund. Through fraud, the fool invests in the fund, which turns out to be nothing short of a disaster. As he’s in the throes of despair, the fool finds out the police think his daughter and her boyfriend had something to do with the cyclist’s death.

The next two chapters are told from the perspectives of the rich man’s wife, who tries to renovate an old theater and falls for the artistic director, and the fool’s daughter, who’s got another love interest besides Richie Rich. She’s the most interesting of the bunch, and the most human. The final chapter, as one might expect, wraps everything together, with clashing personal and financial interests, and an epic, bloody, slow-motion climax. The entire thing is shot crisply, and once it revs up, Human Capital never loses its momentum.

Like a cherry on top, thematic clarity comes in the film’s last few seconds. On a black screen, there’s a bit of text that basically tells you what you’re supposed to take away. It’s effective, if heavy-handed. In short, the revelation is that, in finance, life is valued not only by cash, but by the personal connections people have.  Strangely, however, one of the lives that’s hardly valued in the film at all is that of the cyclist. His death happens in the background, on TV newscasts and through the weeping of nameless characters. Perhaps by omitting his story, the film seeks to highlight the impact one man’s death can have. With all the tragedy in a single day’s worth of headlines, the thought is hard to shake.

Human Capital is playing at the Lagoon Cinema.

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In his directorial debut, Adam Carolla imagines a man much like himself in a miserable alternative reality. He plays Bruce, a middle-aged comedian struggling to live in the shadow of his past fame. In the ’90s, he was half of “The Bro Show,” and afterwards his co-star went on to land a lucrative gig in late night TV. In real life, Carolla was co-host on Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” and his other half in that beer and babes-on-trampolines operation, Jimmy Kimmel, went on to get his name on ABC’s national late night marquee.

While the similarities between Carolla and Bruce are obvious, Road Hard doesn’t play with them in any interesting way. Sure, they’re used for jokes, but they function mostly as a framing device: a means to give Bruce some gravitas. After all, there’s not too much to him. He’s 50-year-old comic reluctantly back on the road, failing to fill small clubs, and being a total jackass to nearly everyone within arm’s reach. Aside from watching his career go down the drain, he’s also living in his L.A. garage while his ex-wife sleeps with her boyfriend in the master bedroom. He’s also trying to convince his college-bound daughter not to attend a $60,000-a-year school.

So what’s funny about this? The situation, sometimes. And some of the stand-up bits are good. But much of the material – the masturbation jokes, the politically incorrect jabs, and the “Bro Show” style get-me-a-sandwich stuff — seems dated. While those all might be a reflection of Bruce’s stuck-in-the-90s character, they still don’t excuse the movie for not being that funny, especially when it wraps up in a sappy love story. It should be said, however, that some of the familiar faces do add some belly laughs. David Alan Grier’s stand-up stuff is particularly good.

As for the love story, it’s a sentimental way to tack on a happy ending. Diane Farr plays the widowed love interest, and she effectively shows Bruce the way to happiness. Turns out, it requires waving goodbye to L.A. and a career in show business. The moral of the story, perhaps, is  that if things turn sour, do something different. Don’t linger a terrible domestic relationship, don’t dwell on the past, don’t go through the motions of a career. Be like Carolla himself, the movie seems to say. Try new stuff, like hosting a podcast, or making a movie. Even if it’s not the greatest, it’s still the start of something.

Road Hard is playing at the St. Anthony Main Theatre.

Jonathon Sharp

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