“Equity” – “I like money.  I do.”  – Naomi Bishop

Speaking on a panel with three other women, Naomi Bishop (Anna Gunn) gives that answer when asked, “What’s that thing that really makes you want to get up in the morning?”

Well, Naomi certainly is the right business, because she works as an investment banker in New York City and specializes in taking companies public, nine in all.  Director Meera Menon does not illustrate Naomi’s wealth with fancy cars or big vacations.  Although Naomi lives in a gorgeous Manhattan apartment, she has zero time for rest and relaxation, because she is always working.

Unfortunately, she suffered a major setback in the office, when her latest initial public offering (IPO) fell apart, because she ruffled her client’s feathers.  With Naomi’s boss dishing out regular verbal reprimands and feedback like “this doesn’t look like your year”, she feels all the pressure to get her newest IPO – Cachet, a security company that is launching a social network – right, but the Ghost from Failed Public Offerings Past is spooking her.  Naomi’s ghost and other problems cause her legit concern, but she pushes forward with the hope that Cachet will be different.

What is different about Menon’s film?  Three strong female characters are the leads in this tense Wall Street drama, and the actresses do a terrific job of representing career-oriented women in different stages of life and under varied personal-choice circumstances.

Naomi, unmarried and in her 40s, never had money as a kid and worked extremely hard for years for her lucrative career.   She plays by the rules but also knows how to play the game in order be a rainmaker for her clients.

Erin (Sarah Megan Thomas) – about 10 years younger – works for Naomi but feels woefully underpaid and underappreciated and struggles to balance her career and home life with her husband.

Samantha (Alysia Reiner) completes the triad, but she is a public servant lawyer who investigates white-collar crime, and she may have Naomi in her legal crosshairs.  Now, Samantha enjoys living in a happy marriage with her partner and raising two kids, so working long hours for a small government salary results in some pressure in the home too.

“Equity” pulls a good job of pulling back the curtains, and we clearly see the stresses in these women’s lives, while they manage or scrutinize the Cachet deal.   Naomi and Erin hope that their target IPO price of $32-$34/share is correct, so the stock will then take off, but so much elbow grease and saleswomanship in the form of international travel, constant meetings, phone calls, and presentations are needed.  On the other hand, when times get difficult, we see warm, feminine smiles are also called upon as well to help close the deal.   Samantha is not immune to using her sex appeal either, as she purposely hits on an unsuspecting broker to get vital information which she needs for her ongoing investigation.    In all such cases, the women clearly do not wish to play this card, but it is card they sometimes believe they have to play.

The film’s story arc plays through the Cachet deal to its (positive or negative) conclusion, and Naomi must recognize and dodge unforeseen financial shenanigans and landmines in order for the deal to thrive.  If not, then she may not politically survive.   Thankfully, the script does not patronize or take shortcuts in developing these roadblocks, because the hurdles to the IPO’s success are not dependent upon Naomi’s gender, but – instead – hard work, karma a little bit of luck in Wall Street’s dirty financial playground.

“Equity” is an effective and intriguing drama on a couple of levels with the film’s title holding a clear double meaning.   The equity markets of Wall Street may be gender-neutral, but for these women, society in 2016 still makes it very, very difficult – but not completely impossible – to have it all.

Image credits: Sony Pictures Classics; Trailer credits: Movieclips Film Festivals & Indie Films

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