Lewis’s economic literacy meets McKay’s humor in “The Big Short”

Erin Golden

Staff Writer

Michael Lewis and Adam McKay were an unlikely duo, much like the characters in “The Big Short.” Michael Lewis is a well-respected financial journalist and economist. Although an entertaining and compelling writer, in no way is he a comedy writer. However, Adam McKay, famous for “Step Brothers”, “Taladega Nights”, “Anchorman”, and other comedies featuring Will Ferrel, is well known for his humor. So how did this duo become yin and yang?

Upon inspection, it is clear that McKay could have gone with a Bennett Miller approach, who directed Lewis’ book “Moneyball.” Miller made “Moneyball” as an inspirational sports movie, giving comedian, Jonah Hill, the opportunity to explore a more serious acting career. Yet McKay chose to leave the inspirational and more serious movie structure behind and capitalize on the absurdity of his characters. Such a decision is evidenced by both Christian Bale’s eccentric and shabby character as well as the brilliant editing that went into creating the explanations for the complicated 2007 economic crisis.

When McKay decided to take on this ambitious project he visited a bond-trading company to get firsthand experience of what he was going to portray in his film. He commented that there was displacement between big time financial practices and the average person noting, “I feel there’s a giant gap between the professionals and experts, and average people. Average people feel they’re too dumb, or banking is boring.” So in order to define the complicated terminology that Lewis poses in his book, McKay uses comedic and playful analogies.

Such an editing technique is brilliant, and helps to explain the technical jargon in a memorable way. While other Wall Street movies focus on the lavish lifestyles of business tycoons (e.g. “The Wolf of Wall Street”), “The Big Short” finds a happy medium between entertaining audience members with that same sort of disillusioning image of an investment banker while simultaneously educating the audience on what sparked the financial crisis. Take for example, Margot Robbie (who played Naomi in “The Wolf of Wall Street”) in a bubbling bathtub talking about a boring topic—Mortgage Back Securities (MBS). McKay has said repeatedly he does what needs to get done to tell the story. Therefore, if the most effective way to educate audience members is to add humorous twists, so be it, as long as the message gets across in a relatively universal manner.

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