Freakonomics DVD Review: Super Freak! Super Freak!

FREAKONOMICS is on general release from 17th of January

Bridging the gap between economics and sociology, Freakonomics is based on the best-selling book by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, which is basically a copy of ‘How Humans Work 101’.

Like the book, the film is split up into mini-documentaries, each dealing with a different aspect of humanity including incentives, cheating, social perception, racism and abortion. This isn’t intended to be an all-encompassing look at the human experience but instead it’s a series of interesting insights into things we thought we already knew. Turns out, we have no idea why we do the things we do.

Conversations with Levitt and Dubner punctuate each segment and the two show themselves to be endlessly intelligent, charismatic and watchable. Seth Gordon has created some very playful and childlike, but nevertheless sophisticated, animation sequences to demonstrate their monologues that act as a palette cleanser for the viewer before the next film.

Morgan Spurlock of Super-Size Me fame directs the first segment entitled ‘A Rashonda By Any Other Name’, an amusing look at the reasons behind naming children. Using animation and live-action dramatisations, Spurlock entertains and informs with good humour with the material never feeling like a lecture.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Alex Gibney’s film on cheating within the world of Sumo wrestling. His style is uninteresting and the seriousness of its tone is jarring considering the light-hearted fare that preceded it. It’s an informative piece but falls short in the style stakes and feels like it belongs in a different film, making it the weak link.

Eugene Jarecki fares better with his controversial segment which claims that the reason for the low crime levels in the early 90s is due to the legalization of abortion in the US after the case of Roe vs. Wade. Jarecki illustrates his points with visually impressive graphics and intercutting scenes from Frank Capra’s ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ creating a piece that is haunting and ultimately very persuasive.

Finally, we’re treated to an actual experiment concerning financial incentives and how teenagers react to them from directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. By offering 50 bucks every month to students in Chicago, we follow students Urail and Kevin to find out if money really is motivating influence.

The extras on the DVD are fairly worthwhile though the producer’s commentary is predictably pointless and offers no insight into the film. The director’s track however is much more interesting with each director narrating their own segment. But the icing on the cake is an extended conversation with Levitt and Dubner who speak about complex issues and thought processes so easily, it’s hard not to be impressed. I would have been happy to just sit and watch them talk for an hour

It might be a little too short and there’s a sizable dip in interest right around the Sumo section, but overall Freakonomics was an enjoyable and educational piece that proved that documentaries can show the lighter side to life.

 

First published at Movie Vortex

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