Sunday, June 10, 2007

Movie Review: Maxed Out

Maxed Out is a documentary about life and debt in the United States. Through interviews and statistics, it underscores government complicity in the dirtiest corporate practices, including giving credit cards with high limits to college students with no income (except future income), wooing back the recently bankrupted, and ultimately fees of $2 for every $1 in principal.

There are some terribly sad stories in Maxed Out: the couple on the margins who was talked by their pastor (!) into a high interest mortgage rather than their government-sponsored low-interest one (they're losing their house), the widow who is losing her home due to debt and contemplating suicide (as she sells off possessions at a garage sale), the mom who secretly shopped until creditors threatened her (she drove her car into the river), and the suicides of two college students who got into more debt than they could ever pay back.

Shame is everywhere in Maxed Out, and if there's one thing we don't like to talk about, it's shame. Oh, and money. Shame and money. And while consumer culture is partly to blame for brainwashing the idea that more is more into us, there are some other huge problems: lack of health insurance makes many people pay with credit, unemployment that runs out, and the altogether sad minimum wage that few people can actually live on.

If you have a pre-teen or teenager, I would suggest watching this film with your kid. There is a lot of serious marketing of credit cards to teenagers, including college students, and just as you should have a continuous dialogue about other topics (sex, for example), money and debt seems to be a worthy topic. You don't need to see the entire interview with the moms of the dead college students to hear how much they wished they had talked to their children about credit cards and debt rather than assuming it was a non-issue.