I have given up trying to pretend I understand anything about the economy. After spending four years of college majoring in English and taking “Linguistics” to satisfy my one math requirement, I’ve accepted that the most I know about finances as an adult is this: pay your credit card off every single month, pay your taxes, don’t be an idiot.
So I walked into Adam McKey’s new film The Big Short with mildly low expectations. If you haven’t yet heard about this film, it is based on the true story of four deviants in the world of high-finance who predicted the collapse of the credit and housing market in 2008, despite being laughed off and mocked by the big banks.
By no means were my expectations low because I had heard this movie was a dud. On the contrary, I’ve heard nothing but good things. It’s already been nominated for four Golden Globe Awards – Best Motion Picture (Comedy), Best Screenplay (Comedy), and Best Actor (Comedy) nominations for Christian Bale and Steve Carrell.
Rather, I simply walked into this movie expecting to understand nothing and be pleasantly lost while I sipped on a small $11 soda and marveled at Steve Carell’s orangey eyebrows and Brad Pitt’s pedophile glasses.
And as good of a job as the film does at explaining things (through hilarious breaking-the-fourth-wall cameos by Margot Robbie and others), I was still barely hanging on to all the financial terms being thrown out at a hundred miles an hour. Because before going into the movie, here are all the things I remembered about the 2008 financial meltdown: real estate bubble, everybody’s getting loans, nobody is paying their mortgages, big banks, something about bonds, Thanks Obama, millennials don’t have jobs, me being too self-involved at the time to care because I was a freshman in college and was more deeply concerned with the twenty pounds I had mysteriously gained (culprit: burritos and everything else.)
But despite having a hard time grasping the definition of collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps, I was on the edge of my seat throughout the entire movie. Because The Big Short is not about being too smart for anyone, or convincing people that it must be good simply because it’s outside of their intellectual capacity. This movie is not about rooting for the collapse of the American (and world) economy. What this movie is about is rooting for the exposure of corruption.
The tone of the film is not holier-than-thou, the sole focus is not to judge and condemn the greedy souls that caused this Recession in the first place (although that’s part of it). The focus is frustration, disgust, and anger over the fact that the people who ultimately suffered were not the morally corrupt. The people that paid for the mistakes of the hunger monsters at the top were regular, hard-working, middle to lower class American people and immigrants.
I wasn’t surprised that the film was so honest and unapologetic while still being so enjoyably funny – that’s exactly how I imagine screenwriter and director Adam McKay to be. I recently got to attend a Q&A with him at The Second City in Chicago that was free and available only to training center students like myself. It was a comfortable, low-key atmosphere where thirty or so comedy nerds who were lucky enough to nab the first-come, first-serve tickets were able to sit with him in a classroom, listen to him talk about the journey of his career, and ask polite questions like “How do you stay motivated” which in reality translates to “How the fuck can I do what you do?”
We all knew his credits going into the Q&A: head writer at SNL (which he successfully requested be changed to the title of Coordinator of Falconry), writer and director of gems like Anchorman and Talladega Nights, co-founder of the website Funny or Die. “Adam McKay” is a big deal. But the Adam McKay that sat on a stool drinking water and chatting with us about how to get paid to do what you love was just a normal, friendly, funny, honest dude. No name-dropping. No pretend-humility. Just someone who found a way to get paid to look honestly at the world through a funny, curious lens.
And that’s why someone like me, who spent the majority of college writing papers about Thomas Hardy while her friends were heading off to Federal Income Tax Accounting, wanted to see a movie about fiscal responsibility so badly. Because when it comes to movies, the damn premise could be about basking weaving and we couldn’t care – as long as the ultimate focus is truth.