Adam Mckay’s usual comedies like “Anchor Man” or “Talladega Nights” explore employ a sly political intelligence. His muse is Will Ferrell, who under McKay’s direction has played San Diego newsreader outraged at having to share his desk with a talented woman in “Anchorman“; a NASCAR driver corrupted by fame and money in “Talledega Nights”; a petulant man-child in “Step Brothers“; a cop with a dark side (and an extremely frisky relationship with his wife) investigating financial wrongdoing in “The Other Guys“; and even a deadbeat behind on the rent he owes to a cranky toddler in the viral video “The Landlord.”
Liberal political rhetoric often scorns the sort of embattled white men McKay and Ferrell explore with such love and humor. It’s this kind of contempt that leads liberals to mock conservatives for voting against what liberals perceive to be their self-interest, or to vilify them for trying to hold on to privileges that are rapidly losing their value. This kind of self-satisfaction is precisely what McKay rejects. Movies such as “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights” persuade everyone to empathize with Ron Burgundy and Ricky Bobby, and to get outraged at the distorting, winner-takes-all systems that surround them instead, pitting Ron against his eventual wife and co-anchor Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) and Ricky Bobby against his best friend and racing partner (John C. Reilly).
“The Big Short” shares many preoccupations and villains with McKay’s comedies, among them financial wrongdoing and people who have marinated in superiority so long, they’re begging to be slapped on a grill. But if McKay’s comedies are about persuading audiences to care about individuals who find themselves at a loss in crazed environments and moments of social upheaval, the great genius of “The Big Short” is to recognize that those individuals are sitting in theater seats, rather than playing out the drama on-screen.
Read more about how McKay uses his methods in “The Big Short” to address the recession here.