“That guy is a fucking liar. Quote me.”
This is director Ben Younger, talking about Jordan Belfort while reminiscing on his first film, 2000’s Boiler Room – while sitting in what he refers to as a secret garden, the backyard area of a trendy coffee shop in his adopted New York City neighborhood of Williamsburg, where’s he’s lived for the past 19 years. (He’s right, there’s no one back here and I would never have found the door to the backyard on my own.) “The neighborhood went to shit,” bemoans Younger, whose third film in the last 16 years, Bleed for This starring Miles Teller as boxer Vinny Paz, opens this weekend.
“I stopped a mugging here,” remembers the now 44-year-old Younger. “There was a dude who was sitting on a woman’s back. She had her purse under her chest. He was punching her in the head truing to get her to let go. I ran as fast as I could, I put my shoulder down, and I slammed into him. The woman, she just ran. She didn’t even say thank you. In hindsight, I know why. Then it’s just me and this guy, so I ran in the other direction.”
Only a couple years after that event, Younger would direct his first film at the age of 26, Boiler Room, a movie he refuses to watch now and calls the worst thing that ever happened to him. He clarifies this by admitting it was too easy. This movie just “happened.” It didn’t teach him how hard it was to make a movie.
He had to learn that lesson later.
Watching Boiler Room in 2016 makes Younger look like a soothsayer. It’s about a low-rent brokerage firm on Long Island that sells worthless stocks to drive up the market while the brokers get rich. “I just got lucky,” downplays Younger, who based the film on A) a friend he won’t name who ran a casino out of his Queens home and B) his own experiences at an interview at one of these kind of places. “I sat through that Ben Affleck speech,” recalls Younger. Jordan Belfort, who eventually got his own movie with The Wolf of Wall Street made a career of claiming Boiler Room was about his exploits (it wasn’t). And what I found out was, if you bring up Belfort’s name in front of Younger, you’re probably going to hear a cuss word.
Younger asks me if it holds up. It kind of, surprisingly, does hold up. If there’s one part that doesn’t, it’s the level of respect Boiler Room gives the prestige brokerage firms like Goldman Sachs – firms we all found out later were just as capable of selling dogshit to its customers. “How the mighty have fallen,” adds Younger. “I think the father-and-son stuff is overtly Freudian, that’s why I can’t watch the movie anymore. It was a little obvious. I was 26, what are you going to do?”