Would Anchorman still be as funny if Ron Burgundy was a real person and the movie based on a book he wrote himself?
The first time I showed my friend Matt Louv the trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, he said “It’s Spring Bankers, dude.”
After having seen it, I can confirm that his assessment is still dead on. It’s one long outlandish set piece after another, each one more debauched than the last, with so much sex that it eventually depicts every speed of Leo’s rutting. And yes I saw it with my mom on Jesus’s birthday. At the risk of offering too many comparisons, Wolf of Wall Street feels more like Anchorman than Casino, following a ridiculous character who gets himself into wild situations and never learns his lesson, fueled by cocaine and quaaludes instead of scotchy scotch scotch. It’s entertaining as hell and the comedy arguably works better than in Anchorman, but would Anchorman still be as funny if Ron Burgundy was a real person and the movie based on a book he wrote himself? I guess that’s up to you. Wolf of Wall Street is great as a fiction, but knowing what I know about Jordan Belfort, it’s hard not to be bothered by how much it lets him write his own mythology. I enjoy it, but I hate the idea of Belfort enjoying it, if that makes any sense.
DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a kid from Queens who dreams of nothing but being rich. He goes to Wall Street as something of a rube, telling his mentor played by Matthew McConaughey “but if the client gets rich in the process, so much the better, right?” Wrong, McConaughey explains. Your job is to keep the client’s money in the game, and move it around as much as possible while extracting commissions, taking home real wealth in exchange for creating the illusion of wealth. Wolf of Wall Street is better than any finance movie has been up until this point at depicting the swindlers’ utter disdain for the client. Though in a microcosm of the rest of the film, that truth is mostly just a jumping off point for a hilarious extended riff on how many times a day McConaughey jerks off and his speech about how cocaine is awesome.
The stock market crashes on Belfort’s second day of work and puts him out on the street. But he takes his mentor’s lessons, and especially his grunting, chest-beating theme song, to heart. Eventually he starts his own firm in Long Island, realizing that there’s more money in getting plumbers and garbage men to throw their money away on penny stocks, for which he can collect a 50 percent commission, rather than nickle and diming the super rich on blue chip stocks for which he gets a much smaller cut. He molds a team of blue collar jagoffs in his own image, creating a sort of fratboy money cult called Stratton-Oakmont, where everyone does drugs, bangs whores, and Jonah Hill masturbates at the Christmas party because he saw a pretty lady.
From there it’s mostly one long wealth montage, though Scorsese ups the ante with chimps, dwarf-tossing, whores, cocaine, cocaine, quaaludes, whores, and more whores. The predictable move would’ve been to show the victims, the good guy getting in over his head, but instead Scorsese keeps you firmly ensconced in Belfort’s world of money makes right and no consequences. Whereas Goodfellas is fueled by tension, Wolf is driven almost completely by comedy, which it finds in absurd arguments about dwarves and an incredible, quaalude-fueled set piece with cocaine reimagined as Popeye’s spinach that rivals the best Three Stooges sketches ever filmed for physical comedy. In a lot of ways, Wolf of Wall Street is Goodfellas through the eyes of Joe Pesci’s Tommy, rather than Ray Liotta’s Henry. Everything is a big joke.