I have always been kind of a numbers person. I know that, as a woman, the stereotype would be for me to hate math (oh, please, could the big, strong man do this algebra equation for me?), but I actually quite enjoy it. Heck, I even took a finite mathematics class in college “for fun”–and it was. Sigh. I miss matrices (I am not referring the plural version of the Matrix trilogies). I am sure this admission solidifies my status as a nerd, but I suppose I am past the point of trying to avoid this moniker. Naturally, with my affinity towards math and my love of the written word, it should be no surprise that I loved the book, Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. So, imagine how excited I was when I heard they made a movie based on the book and it was on Netflix Watch Instantly. I mean, math AND an adaptation of a good book AND a movie on Netflix. It was almost too much excitement for me to take. Clearly, I need to get out more.
Highlighting several anecdotes from the book, the documentary Freakonomics explores several aspects of culture by using economic theory and statistics. Has you on the edge of your seat, doesn’t it? However, it’s actually much more interesting than it sounds. For example, the film attempts to understand the importance of your name—how names become popular in the “upper” class and eventually funnel down to the lower classes and how your name could affect your ability to get a job. Like the book, the film consists of smaller vignettes– each of which are directed by a different documentary filmmaker.
I have to admit, I was a little concerned with how the film would approach the subject matter from the book. The book has so many short stories (it’s kind of like a Malcolm Gladwell book in that respect) that each highlight one of Levitt’s economic theories or statistics as they are applied to “real” life. However, I found that I was still interested in the movie even though it was essentially a “lite” version of the book. In a way, Freakonomics resembled a group of shorts compiled together based on a common theme to make a feature length film. Because my parents were in town visiting, I watched this film over several days. The series of short stories allowed me to find natural stopping points in the film and made the documentary easy to jump in to after a break. Yay!
Aside from the content, one of the more interesting aspects of Freakonomics is how the film was approached. I liked seeing how different filmmakers handled their topics. While some were more traditional (for example, with the use of talking heads), others employed interesting animation to accent their work. The use of several filmmakers also helped to break up what could be a monotonous film and not hip subject matter. In a way, it makes economics/statistics cool and fun (hmm, if only the same could be done for me).
As with any book-turned-movie, Freakonomics (the motion picture) didn’t quite live up to Freakonomics (the book). I found the documentary content to be watered down a bit from the book. One of the things I loved about the book was how it made statistics interesting and applicable to cultural issues. Although the film employed these ideas, I would have liked to see more of the numbers and calculations find their way into the documentary. Perhaps I just like the hard facts, but I found these statistics to be an amazing part of the book.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. I liked how it was divided into shorts—each of which helmed by a different director—and I was engrossed by the subject matter. And while I had fun watching the film, I should point out that I am not 100% sold on all of his ideas (although some are really cool and fairly convincing). Like documentaries, I understand that numbers can also be manipulated to prove a point or sway opinions. However, I very much appreciate the unique and thought-provoking way that both the book and movie versions of Freakonomics made me think about numbers. I also appreciate how the title makes me think of Freak Nasty and “Da’ Dip.” Thus, I will leave you with a little taste of the ’90s. Enjoy! (I’m sorry, it’s a catchy tune).
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!
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