Stories about well-spoken men who won’t shut up about their inane thoughts and the pretty women who put up with them are difficult to make interesting, and The Last Days of Capitalism struggles with its own setup before an excellent final turn that makes you wish the build-up was a little less off-putting.
The Man (Mike Faiola) wakes up in a plush penthouse suite high above the Vegas Strip. Naked, he stands at the window overlooking his domain, his pale bare ass contrasting with the rest of his sunbleached body. Too many days at the pool. Judging by that and his trashed hotel room, he’s been here a while. His companion, the Woman (Sarah Rose Harper), wakes up long after him. She’s new to the room, a prostitute he’d hired the night before. He offers her breakfast. She demurs, saying she needs to get back to her roommate at Arizona State. So The Man offers her some cash to stay for the weekend, then doubles it when she turns him down. They barter. She stays, several thousand dollars richer. His only request: She tells him her real name.
She lies to him. He lies to her. Thus begins their 72-hour weekend affair. They eat, they sleep, they have sex, they talk. They give themselves pretend names and occupations so that they can speak openly to one another about what ails them. It’s clear the Man has a lot of deep-seated psychological issues and needs a woman to listen to him; he’s so annoying that the only way that can happen is if he pays her. The Woman is much more composed and aware of herself. It verges, frustratingly, into “hooker with a heart of gold” territory, where she’s taking care of him as he falls for her and introduces her to a world of fast living. That’s not how it ends, but the Man is consistently grating nonetheless and not in an interesting way. His shallowness, which the Woman calls out, makes some of their interactions feel like a chore for the audience as much as it is for her. We never believe she’s falling for him.
Harper is as engaging as the Woman as Faiola is irritating as the Man (but I don’t blame him, as the script is fundamentally where that character falters). The Woman constantly changes her story in little ways to pacify the Man’s curiosity. Her true emotions about the arrangement they’ve developed are impossible to read. She seduces him by giving him what he wants … or at least making him think that’s the case. When the final twist happens, her change in demeanor is great. She carries the movie.
For a story confined to a single apartment, The Last Days of Capitalism does a great job giving the space its own geography. Writer-director Adam Mervis makes do with what he has. It doesn’t feel like the two characters are locked away or trapped together. Frankly, the script would probably work just as well onstage with, maybe, some additions to the Man to make him more sympathetic from the get-go. His entire character feels like an artifact of a story structure that takes for granted the inherent interest or watchability of a smooth-talking man. Stories about characters like the Man are a dime a dozen. And yes, it all comes together in the end, and our dislike of him is justified and rewarded. But that doesn’t make the initial steps of their love affair any more engaging.
Sure, a man with endless money and no friends but the ones he buys is a recognizable result of capitalism. A man buying a prostitute and forcing her to listen to him for hours? Sure. There are teeth to the social critique thanks to Harper’s performance in the final moments, but the thing about capitalism, and the dynamics of powerful men and the women they attract, is that the ultra-wealthy aren’t all off-putting and terrible. Money seduces. I wish the Man had been written to better seduce the audience rather than whine about his issues. The hammer-fall of the ending would’ve been more powerful.
Still, that ending sings, Mervis’s direction is skilled and creative, and Harper is so consistently good that there’s no reason to write off The Last Days of Capitalism as a failure. The script may need some tweaking to make the Man more compelling, but this is otherwise a pretty accomplished low-budget, single-set drama with a lot to say — some of it pretty clever.