Maxed Out
Can You Pay Cash to See This Movie?

We all like to believe we’re in control—of our schedules, our relationships, our lives… and especially our finances. Nothing says “capitalism” better than instant gratification, whether it’s with no money down and no interest for 18 months, deferred payments, or just a quick splash on the credit card. And let’s face it—without lines of credit, the good ol’ USA would crumble under the weight of poor business. Besides, with our federal government as an example, how can we possible think that debt is all bad?

Well, if you have any questions about that, Maxed Out will clear them right up. Director James D. Scurlock takes a no-holds-barred look inside the credit card industry, exposing the dangers of relying on debt—specifically credit card debt—to subsidize living beyond our means.

Harvard's Elizabeth Warren in Maxed OutThere’s probably not a whole lot of information in Scurlock’s daring exposé that can’t be found with a little research and a bit of knowledge about where to look, but the stunning collation of data in this relatively brief documentary is enough to give even the most “responsible” spenders pause. Armed with statistics about debt, collectors, credit card companies, debt buyers (which I’d never even heard of), bankruptcy, and victims of downright predatory advertising, Scurlock paints a picture nearly as bleak and frightening as Al Gore, sans political slant. Numerous experts, former insiders, and people drowning in the sea of their own interest payments testify to the overwhelming problem of debt in our society.

And it is terrifying.

I don’t want to spill all the statistics in a review—again, they’re probably readily available elsewhere, and my printing them here isn’t nearly as momentous as seeing them in black and white, and hearing the stories of people whose lives have been unalterably affected by debt, whether it’s their own or a loved one’s. Unfortunately, as one expert grimly points out, “Death is the only form of debt discharge,” a lesson several families in this film discovered the hard way after a son, a daughter, a mother committed suicide.

As a documentary, I took issue with the way certain things were approached—several times statements were made by experts or former insiders that aren’t well-substantiated, which, in a film attempting to expose the truth, I find a bit disconcerting and disingenuous. And the footage isn’t without its share of Michael-Moore-style “connections” that make certain individuals and/or organizations look suspect, when the connection, though perhaps established, isn’t necessarily what Scurlock would like to imply. But since the point of the film is less about these individuals and their connections than about the predatory tactics of the credit card industry, I was willing to let the propagandism slide. Overall, the intent and message of the film is far too important to pick apart for its questionable implications.

Scurlock’s film is worth the cost—even for a non-matinee showing—just for having all the information, and the scathing testimony, all in one package. Just make sure you’re not paying interest on the price of the ticket.

Maxed Out is not rated. If I were to create my own rating system, I would give it an MS-17—Must See For Everyone 17 Or Older. Whether you’re already steeped in credit card debt, or you’re about to test your water wings in the Sea of Credit Cards, don’t sign another slip until you’ve seen Scurlock’s film. And parents, PLEASE do your children and yourselves a potentially life-saving favor by taking your college-age kids to see this with you. You will all benefit.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jenn attended a press screening of Maxed Out. Also, please see Greg Wrights interview with director James Scurlock.