The quadruple jump is probably the toughest, riskiest move in figure skating. But when it lands, man oh man does it land. The skater who pulls off such a move is virtually guaranteed to get a big score in any competition.
That’s what writer/director Adam McKay’s tragicomic polemic “The Big Short” should land at the Academy Awards this Sunday night, when it deservedly takes home the best picture prize.
Set in the years leading up to the 2008 economic collapse — one of the most shameful moments in recent U.S. history — “The Big Short” follows Wall Street outsiders played by Steve Carell, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling, among others. And it does the impossible. It makes us root for them.
Much has been made of the fact that the film subverts traditional narrative rules. Gosling’s smarmy spray-tanned adviser narrates, breaking the fourth wall repeatedly (with the help of well-known celebrities) to explain complicated financial concepts directly to the audience.
Spoiler alert: It’s still tough to remember the exact definition of a credit-default swap when streams of financial lingo are being thrown at you nonstop.
What’s not hard to understand, though — and this is McKay’s true triumph — is the emotional journey of the characters within the context of the story. Carell’s conscience, Bale’s certainty, Gosling’s greed: These ideas inform the bigger picture. By putting faces to unsympathetic people and illustrating what’s at stake for them personally, McKay uses the conventional underdog story against us. We have to keep reminding ourselves that we shouldn’t be rooting for the recession.
“The Big Short” deftly straddles the line between broad comedy and real-life tragedy. It exposes not just the rot, but the sheer absurdity at the core of our country’s financial system.
The kicker? Only one person was actually punished for any of this, and it’s poised to happen all over again.
McKay channels our rage and gives us an excuse to do just about the only thing we feel like we can do about our rigged economy — laugh in its big fat ugly face.
Eric Melin is a co-founder of the Kansas City-based movie review website scene-stealers.com.