Equity is a film directed, written, produced and financed by women, and the fact that this is so rare it becomes a selling point is a sorry indictment on the state of the industry, so it’s hard to begrudge writer Amy Fox and director Meera Menon for sticking it to the men on camera.
Almost without exception the male characters we get are either obnoxious or self-obsessed dopes, and for the most part they’re also forced to the periphery. The only real exception to this is James Purefoy’s Michael Connor, a smooth-talking cad who’s both central to the plot and symptomatic of the (sometimes awkward) split in the film’s identity. On the one hand it’s a quietly compelling financial drama that shines a spotlight on the pressures facing driven, successful women, yet the underlying mechanics scream pulpy, late-night potboiler. With Purefoy filling the role of homme fatale there’s a nagging sense that – given the chance – things could easily tumble into a swirling vortex of twists, turns and never-ending melodrama.
Thankfully they never quite do. Fox and Meera have got bigger fish to fry, and Equity is at its best when the soapier elements take a backseat to the everyday concerns of battle-hardened investment banker Naomi Bishop (the excellent Anna Gunn). She’s fought and scrapped her way to a senior position at one of Wall Street’s biggest firms, but her previously unblemished track record has just taken a hit. The perception – fair or not – is that she mishandled a recent project and the timing couldn’t be worse. The big boss man is finally thinking of stepping aside and appointing a successor.
For Naomi the stakes are sky-high. Rising to the top of a doggedly competitive industry has come at a cost – beyond string-free rendezvous with Purefoy’s lover-boy broker her private life is more or less non-existent, friends and family are nowhere to be seen. Her status as a powerful and wealthy career woman means everything to her, so she has no choice but to regroup and prove herself all over again. Unfortunately this means negotiating a male-dominated system where power dynamics can shift and deals sour if you wear the wrong dress.
By the end the focus isn’t gender-specific, but plenty of the most memorable moments are. One of the film’s great strengths is nailing wider issues with a particular snapshot, whether it’s the threat of maternity leave torpedoing a promising career or a farcical pay gap that can often be as wide as 40 per cent. The former gets ticked off when Naomi discovers her younger VP (Sarah Megan Thomas) trying to hide her pregnancy by sneaking to the bathroom and pouring a drink down the sink. The look on the latter’s face is one of abject horror.