‘The Big Short’ Review | Here Comes Money Boo-Boos
It’s hard to make people eat their broccoli, in large part because it’s broccoli. It’s unambiguously green and bulbous and it’s probably not the thing most people crave unless it’s covered in rich, gooey cheese. But you need to eat your broccoli. If you don’t you will die really, really horribly… more or less… look, just shut up, I’m trying to make a point here.
The point is, moviegoing audiences are generally quite adept at recognizing broccoli from a distance. That’s why well-intentioned message pictures and insightful documentaries usually don’t crack the list of the biggest moneymakers of any given year. People go to the movies to escape their troubles, and films that confront them with life’s great horrors and disappointments don’t typically qualify unless they are disguised, if not downright covered, in that delicious cheese.
So a filmmaker like Adam McKay, the director of mostly stupid comedies like Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, is weirdly enough the perfect filmmaker for a project like The Big Short. It’s the shocking account of how a group of mostly unrelated investors caught wind of the housing bubble with just enough time to make a tidy profit off of it. The banks told them they were out of their minds, their backers tried to pull out, but they knew the economy was going to collapse and even they were blown away by just how deep the corruption had taken root.
The Big Short is a rich and damning dramedy, acted to damn near perfection by a cast including Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale (amongst many). It’s impossible to walk away without feeling like you were just shot in the stomach by the quote-unquote “American Dream.” And because it was made by a filmmaker who appreciates irony, gallows humor and a good old metaphoric pratfall (even at the working class’s expense), it’s a delight to watch this nightmare unfold. It’s the best damned broccoli in town.
The plot of The Big Short is easy to understand in the abstract, but difficult to pin down thanks to complex jargon and doublespeak. McKay and his co-writer Charles Randolph (adapting the book by Michael Lewis) take pity on us, repeatedly cutting to soothing images like Margot Robbie – as herself – in a bubble bath, dumbing the vocabulary down for us. It’s the same kind of didactic fourth wall demolition Woody Allen resorted to in Annie Hall, but used for a higher purpose than shaming casual Marshall McLuhan fanboys. It’s a constant reminder that film has the power to accurately portray complex ideas, and also to reduce them to their simplest, most potent forms.
But in essence, what we are watching is a group of men who recognized an appalling lack of reason and responsibility in a system on which the whole world had come to depend. We watch them uncover layer after layer of incompetence and greed. We marvel as the world goes by, oblivious to just how screwed we all are, and we remember just how apocalyptic it was when everybody suddenly figured it out.
And then of course, we remember that nothing changed, and we’re all still fucked beyond any reasonable system of measurement. And we remember that these men, who saw the end times coming, did little or nothing to stop it. They simply placed their bets. Greed wins every time, except perhaps right now: The Big Short is the sort of film audiences typically avoid in droves. It’s the kind of film that nobody makes to bring in an enormous profit. It’s the kind of film that people make because it’s the right thing to do, and the right way to teach an important lesson.
And it has been made to damn near perfection. Nutritious, delicious, with just the right amount of cheese.
Photos: Paramount Pictures
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.