There is a lot going on in “Greed.”
In keeping with his film’s title, co-writer/director Michael Winterbottom sucks up material, seemingly intent on telling not just a story but every story. The central character is Richard, the soulless head of a clothing empire/Ponzi scheme who is throwing himself a grotesque 60th birthday party that folks who attended (or, rather, didn’t attend) the aborted Fyre Festival may recognize. But, in what could be intended as an homage to Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” the movie is overstuffed with supporting characters, subplots and non-chronological timelines within timelines.
Not all of that stuff lands but parts of this broad satire are pretty great, starting with Shirley Henderson. The Scottish actor plays Richard’s mother, even though Henderson is actually a month younger than Steve Coogan, who plays Richard. Henderson works like crazy in the U.K., often in theater or independent films, but she’s best known on this side of the Atlantic as Moaning Myrtle in the “Harry Potter” films.
That means “Greed” is a swell opportunity to catch up with the baby-voiced performer’s off-kilter talent. Her Margaret is a foul-mouthed, rude grande dame who is probably the only person in the film who’s actually as smart as they think they are. Henderson’s full force emerges in a scene in which her crooked teenage son is being booted from a snooty school and, after she reads the riot act to administrators, they comment, “The mother is worse than the son!”
Coogan may have softened up his image by vanishing into the role of Stan Laurel in the recent “Stan and Ollie” but “Greed” brings him back to the territory that fans of “Alan Partridge” and “24 Hour Party People” want him in: coked-up, quippy and misanthropic (“24 Hour,” incidentally, also featured Henderson and was directed by Winterbottom). It feels like only a matter of time before somebody posts a YouTube supercut of characters saying awful things about Coogan’s Richard after he leaves a room: “What a prat!” and “He was a bottom feeder” are two of the publishable epithets in a profane script that gives last year’s “Uncut Gems” a run for its bleeping money.
On its way to a truly bizarre climax, Winterbottom’s entertainingly messy comedy also finds room for about a dozen famous cameos (Keith Richards’ is the best), ridiculous Roman-era costumes that establish a connection to the fall of that empire (and the current one) and a witheringly nasty deconstruction of the color pink by Richard.
The movie’s structure is too fussy and Asa Butterfield is all too boring as Richard’s bore of a son, but if you can’t wait for the next season of “Succession,” “Greed” should fill the rich-people-are-monstrous-idiots gap nicely.