Why The Big Short falls short in a big way

  This is Meredith Whitney

 Meredith Whitney is a financial analyst who predicted the 2007/2008 Wall Street crash and the resulting world wide recession. In particular she realised the trouble that the investment banking and financial services company Citigroup were in and when she went public with her forecasts the organisation’s stock dropped and the CEO was forced to resign. People listened to her but inevitably it was too late to help the millions of people who were effected when the bottom fell out of the housing market. Meredith Whitney features significantly in Michael Lewis’ bestselling book The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, which examines what went wrong and why only a few people saw it coming. Meredith Whitney does not feature in the film adaptation at all. She doesn’t even get a mention. 


It is hard to think this is more by accident than design when you consider how women are totally marginalised through out the whole movie. This is where The Big Short falls short, in a big way. 


Consider also the way in which celebrities appear as themselves at various points in the film to unpack the complicated banking jargon. We get Anthony Bourdain, verbally introduced as the world famous chef that he is, shown working away in his kitchen. There he is in his workplace, the heart of the business empire he has built up, helping us get our head around some complicated buzzwords. Okay, fine but what is the female equivalent? 


It’s Margot Robbie in a bath! 


She’s not even given any context, she’s not described as successful BAFTA nominated actor Margot Robbie, it’s just ‘Does all this terminology make you feel stupid? Here’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to explain’. Actually, it’s that that makes me feel stupid not the dodgy banks, or at least it makes me think you think I’m a bit stupid. Yes, yes, I get the joke, I get that it is highlighting sexism by being sexist but that only works if the rest of the film isn’t actually sexist too which it kind of is.


Sandra Bullock would have been excellent as Meredith Whitney. Elizabeth Banks could have done it too. Hey, they could have used Marisa Tomei who is already in the film. That way this highly talented Oscar winning actor could have had more than just two scenes where she appears briefly as some guy’s wife.


The Margot Robbie moment also highlights another problem with the film. It isn’t as funny as it thinks it is. In many respects a hard hitting film about the catastrophic credit bubble from Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman, which seems odd but as you watch it and the gags fall a little flat just as they did in that film you realise perhaps the guy hasn’t come so far after all.


To be fair to McKay he hasn’t set out to make an out and out comedy. This is a more serious topic and the humour mostly comes from characters making asides to the camera. (The bath gag might actually have worked better in a more consistently humorous setting.) Also this is not the first time McKay has shown political concerns; The Other Guys was built around corporate corruption. I just can’t help feeling that this film would have been better if it had been made by someone else. As it is the tone is confused. The message of the movie still comes through, it is important and strong enough to speak for itself, but McKay has fumbled it. 


As well as oddly breaking the fourth wall (seriously, it is like mixing Ferris Bueller with Dead Man Walking) it also has a little of Michael Moore’s sanctimoniousness. There is plenty to be moralistic and judgemental about but it is a little Pecksniffian when you consider that the people at the heart of the story are the ones who sought to benefit financially from what happened. These are not righteous crusading journalists, they are bankers and investors who saw what was coming and found a way to cash in. You want them to be proved right and you want the smug expressions to be wiped off the faces of the fat cats that doubted them but you know that their success means the destruction of many livelihoods and they’re not doing anything to help these people. Sure they feel bad but not enough to prompt any altruism. It’s like Robin Hood but without the giving to the poor bit. The film needed to show someone who wasn’t in it for the money. 


Someone like Meredith Whitney for example.


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