Two years ago filmmaker and loving grandson Karney Hatch moved to Moscow, ID to take care of his grandparents. While running errands to the pharmacy and the grocery store one day, Hatch overdrew his Washington Mutual account. But unlike the rest of us schmucks who suck it up and eat ramen noodles for a couple of weeks, Hatch got mad and made a documentary.
“Overdrawn!” follows Hatch on a quest to pull back the curtain on some of the less benevolent corporate banking practices: from predatory loans to overdraft fees. Although the drastic changes to the banking landscape over the past year makes the film feel like an artifact of a bygone era. The stock market is plummeting, the credit is dried up and, well… does anyone even remember what a Washington Mutual was? But “Overdrawn!” does provide an interesting, if not entirely detailed snapshot of the sort of policies that got us where we are today.
Taking a page from Michael Moore’s “Roger and Me” playbook, Hatch positions himself as a David to corporate banking industry’s Goliath. He wisely focuses on personal stories the audience can easily relate to and wins their sympathy early. Also like Moore, Hatch makes an effort to break up the aggravating subject matter with a strong sense of levity. During a section about predatory loans, Hatch uses stock footage to characterize banks as a hunter menacing his prey with a shotgun. The comparison could have seemed severe, but the hunter in the footage is Elmer Fudd and the prey is Bugs Bunny keeping just the right mix of humor while getting the point across.
The pacing is a little sluggish at the beginning. The film starts with an unnecessary, grade-school account of the history of banking (did you know banking began with bartering?). The only useful function this segment serves is to cite a few biblical and historical precedents against usury and the charging of interest. But once out of the gate, “Overdrawn!” moves briskly, jumping between personal banking nightmare stories and advice from such sources as former bank employees, US Representative Carolyn Maloney and Ralph Nader.
Like many films of this ilk, “Overdrawn!” successfully sets your blood boiling. However, the documentary sets itself apart from most of its peers by actually offering solutions rather than just exposing problems. Hatch gets advice to switch to a community development bank, invest in micro-lending and, at Nader’s suggestion, sue his bank in small claims court.
For the finale, Hatch decides to put Nader’s advice to the test by opening a checking account for the purpose of overdrawing it. For the average viewer, the shock of watching Hatch deliberately overdrawing his account is similar to the toilet scene in Haneke’s “The Seventh Continent.” But even more shocking is that Hatch wins. The bank refunds all of his fees and even compensates him for the court costs rather than going to trial.
Clocking in at just over an hour, “Overdrawn!” has its share of flaws, but offers plenty of information and entertainment to make it worthwhile. For now we can only hope that Hatch is working on a follow up titled “Foreclosure!”