18 March 2010

Review: "Maxed Out"

Both The Cove and Food, Inc. are recent documentaries that I have seen that have frightened me. I can now add Maxed Out to that list. The most alarming similarity is that these three films present disturbing realities that government agencies allow to happen. The film's director, James Scurlock, said that his reason for making the film "was to paint the story of our debt-fueled culture in broad strokes. The more people I met, the more I realized this is an emotional issue as well as an academic topic." Maxed Out does an effective job by presenting a wide range of viewpoints. It does not only showcase victims of credit card debt, but there are interviews with many individuals who profit from the incredible amount of debt in the United States. As a negative, The Wall Street Journal addressed the trustworthiness of the film by highlighting the fact that the film's main persuasive argument comes from Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who is widely known for making these unsubstantiated arguments. Regardless of the accuracy of the film's facts, Maxed Out is a powerful and frightening film that has made me more aware of how I use my credit cards.

The film opens with a woman named Beth Naef, a successful real estate broker in Las Vegas. She is giving a hour of a $5.5M home and talking about the conveniences that her clients want: elevators and wine cellars. She goes as far as to say that she will not be able to afford her own home if interest rates go up. We also meet two mothers whose children went off to college and amassed thousands of dollars of credit card debt. Their story is heartbreaking and the women continue to fight credit card companies and the legality of college students having their own credit cards. Maxed Out also features interviews with credit collectors and we see firsthand how they mistreat those individuals with credit card debt. Personally, the most shocking story belonged to Doris Gohman. In 2004 three credit card companies mistakenly reported that she was dead, when in fact it was her daughter who was deceased. For three years she has gone to and from court with no protection.

Maxed Out is a well conceived film, though at times I feel that some of the more serious elements are made less powerful because of the lighthearted feel of other scenes. Three people featured in the film committed suicide. It is shocking and appalling that American banks and the American government stand idly by while lives are ruined. I have become more aware of credit card ads and have realized that almost all of the pop-up advertisements on the internet that I encounter are from Capital One. It is far too easy for someone to get a credit card, but it can be a long and painful road to learn how to use one.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

Also, an interesting site referenced in the film: Debt Clock.

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