Adam McKay coaxed Margot Robbie into a bubble bath to get us all hot and bothered ... about the 2008 housing crisis.
(Very) nice try, but it wasn’t enough.
“The Big Short,” based on Michael Lewis’ bestseller breaking down that fiscal calamity, doesn’t just leave out key details. It forgets it’s a movie, not a Technicolor op-ed. That leaves us with some impressive storytelling devices begging to be plugged into something substantial.
McKay snares today’s hippest stars, including Christian Bale, Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling, to make sure we’re paying attention. A lecture is a lecture is a lecture, no matter how many bubbles Robbie pops in the process.
Meanwhile, a few other Wall Streeters suspect the same thing. The mortgage bubble is about to burst, big time. They want to cash in. Heck, everyone in the film does, too, save Brad Pitt’s character. More on him in a moment.
McKay captures it all with a series of pop culture mashups, celebrity drop-ins (Selena Gomez! Anthony Bourdain!) and sanctimonious hand-held camera work. The latter reminds us how serious the material actually is.
It’s a condescending approach to the crisis. A more assured storyteller could deliver the bad news without the bubbles, bells and whistles. Take away those trinkets, and there’s precious little to keep us engaged.
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Yet, amazingly, “The Big Short” grabs us … for a while. All that slick editing, fancy name dropping and top flight actors grab our attention. It’s all stirred together to foment our anger at the system.
Outraged yet? Wait. “The Big Short” is just warming up. It’s like an ABBA reunion tour playing the same great song in different keys. No matter how mesmerizing the melody, we soon lose interest.
What “The Big Short” doesn’t do, surprisingly enough, is bash specific politicians or even entire parties at great length. Yes, McKay is one of the industry’s most outspoken liberals who puts progressive talking points in the strangest places. Heck, he turned the end credits for “The Other Guys” into an anti-Wall Street screed.
Here, he tries to blame the system and the cretins eager to profit from it. That leaves us with few people to root for in this grim-a-thon. At least Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” had the good sense to show us a grand ol’ time while millions got financially ruined.
DID YOU KNOW: ‘The Big Short’ author Michael Lewis is married to Tabitha Soren, best known for her stint as an MTV news correspondent. They have three children.
McKay doesn’t bother to mention that millions of people looked at their own sketchy finances and signed on those dotted lines in the first place. Or how the federal government used its pressure to coax banks to lend to people who didn’t have the means to pay back these loans in the first place.
instead, the movie glibly claims people blamed “poor people” for the fiscal mess, a dishonest statement that’s no laughing matter.
Pitt’s appearance as a crunchy capitalist is a kissing cousin to his “12 Years a Slave” turn. Both show up as wizened souls who can see above the current crisis. It’s hopelessly self-serving from an actor capable of much more.
“The Big Short” feels like bad medicine followed by a gulp of HI-C fruit punch. It’s certainly not an engrossing tale. We see few dramatic arcs of consequence during its 130 minute run, and of course we know what happens in the end. Turns out all those bubble bath takes went for naught.