You watch a romantic comedy to feel good. I was tired at the end of last week, so “Wedding Season” Netflix looked like it might be funny. I was not expecting that the protagonist would be an economist.
First, how was the movie? The first half was somewhat entertaining. The second half is too sappy and long for me.
This movie is one of the few movies I know that is just unironically set in New Jersey. There were no jokes about Jersey or Shore folk. New Jersey is where immigrant families from India are making dreams come true. The dialogue about immigrant Indian culture, including arranged marriages, was interesting.
You know the trope about a character becoming rich because they inherited money from an estranged uncle? In Wedding Season, the guy becomes unexpectedly rich from Facebook stock.
Second, how was economics portrayed?
Here is the plot summarized by Wikipedia
Asha is an economist working in microfinance who has recently broken off her engagement and left a Wall Street banking career behind to work for a microfinance startup in New Jersey. Asha’s mother Suneeta, concerned for her future and against the advice of her husband Vijay, sets up a dating profile through which Asha meets Ravi.
In the beginning of the movie, Asha pitches microfinance to investors from Singapore. Asha tries to convince them using graphs and statistics. The investors turn her project down.
Microfinance was hyped in the 2000’s. I believed, so became a Campus Kiva Representative as an undergraduate. I convinced teens in my dorm to pool our dollars to sponsor a loan for a woman in a poor country. Since then, economists have done empirical work to show that microfinance is not as effective as we hoped (see work by 2019 Nobel Prize Winners Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee). The filmmakers either do not know the latest research or they don’t care. The pitch is still as emotionally appealing as it was when I heard if for the first time 15 years ago, so it makes for good movie scenes.
The irony in Wedding Season is not only that Asha succeeds in getting bankers from Singapore to invest in microfinance but also how she goes about it.
I take it Asha is not a theorist (see A Beautiful Mind for the theorist movie), despite being portrayed as a mental arithmetic whiz. She is going to convince the investors with empirical evidence.
Data cleaning is both important and boring. In reality, economists usually have digitized data to sort through. It would be too boring to watch Asha scroll through a spreadsheet and code data joins. For cinematic purposes, she has physical boxes of papers to read and organize.
How does she use data to convince the investors to support her non-profit? She doesn’t.
Her new boyfriend tells her to give up on empirical analysis and just tell the bankers about her own childhood. One of her Indian ancestors got a loan that enabled him to eventually send her father to Ohio State.
I like to think that they picked Ohio State because of my inimitable colleague PJ Healy.
Anecdotes might work in marketing, but they are what you are not supposed to reason from in economics. It is hard to show that in a positive way in a film. Reasoning (wrongly) from an isolated anecdote is something we often do. A two-hour film has to appeal to emotion if the audience is going to keep watching. Films often need to rely on myths.
Somehow myths can be gleefully debunked in a podcast while still holding the interest of the audience. Econ podcasts as a medium have been successful, sometimes even stretching into two hours.
No one cares about accuracy of career portrayals in Wedding Season. Despite all the errancy, this movie could still inspire someone to take an economics class. There they might find out about the uncinematic concepts of unintended consequences and trade-offs.
Most economists are not as glamorous as Asha. What are economists really like? Observing them all together at a conference is one way to find out.
As Tyler Cowen says, “parties are overrated.” We may not party hard, but I think we are funny.
Nice post but, actually, the writers may know more about microfinance than you think. The nobel prize winners didn’t do a good job in their studies:
When you look back at the papers and ignore the lack of stars, there are important effects.
Thanks for pointing that out. Microfinance deserves a full serious post.
https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/app.20170299 Rachael Meager’s abstract: ” I find the impact on household business and consumption variables is unlikely to be transformative and may be negligible.”