Here’s a question for you: does putting a pair of glasses and a beard on Brad Pitt make a movie more funny or less funny? In the case of The Big Short, the answer appears to be the latter, but just about everything else in this surreal, deliriously energized adaptation of Michael Lewis’ bestseller is comic gold. This is due in large part to the freewheeling improvisational instincts of co-writer-director Adam McKay (a recent Oscar-winner for this film’s script), who uses his manic comic impulses—seen in films like Anchorman and Step Brothers—to transform potentially dry material about the 2008 housing crisis into the most densely entertaining, exhilarating, disturbing, and hilarious movie of 2015.
So why wasn’t it a massive hit? Could it be that reasonable people in search of pleasure heard alarm bells at the first mention of collateralized debt obligation, credit default swaps, subprime mortgage bond value, and mortgage-backed security? Just typing that stuff was painful and I’m sure reading it was even worse. However, as McKay and his cast explain in the extras on this disc, the whole point of the movie is to confront, clarify, and overcome this intentionally confusing language, as that is precisely what allowed the banks to rob the American people of homes, savings, and anything else they could get their hands on.
Watching the extras on this Blu-ray, you quickly get a sense of the deranged spirit that made the triumph of The Big Short possible. I’m giving at least part of the credit to
the one-of-a-kind hairstyle of genius editor Hank Corwin (JFK, Natural Born Killers, The Tree of Life), but he’s not the only one who left vanity behind. Just watch the unfortunately tanned Ryan Gosling as he attempts to dramatize the “American housing market getting f*cked” by humping a boardroom table until a tower of Jenga collapses. Gosling, Steve Carell, and Christian Bale are all interviewed about the film’s unique production, but it seems Brad Pitt is simply too famous for featurettes. In contrast, Bale goes the extra mile for this disc, growing a Revenant beard and using a British accent that is at least 40 percent thicker than usual.
For the most part, the extras simply underline points you’ll get from the movie itself, but there are some intriguing anecdotes. For one, McKay credits his life-changing discovery of the book to an ad on This American Life. He also explains that he’s known Steve Carell for over two decades, but only thought of him for the role of Mark Baum after seeing his unsettling performance in Foxcatcher. All 70 minutes of extras are worth a look, but the real attraction on this disc is the film itself. While those five nominations may make The Big Short look like disposable Oscar bait, this is something far less common: a comedy for the ages.