Thursday, February 29, 2024

Best of 2023, #7: Dumb Money

I loved Michael Lewis’s book “The Big Short” and I loved Adam McCay’s movie of it even more. I had it as my favorite movie of that year. But I had to keep reminding myself: shorters are assholes, and we shouldn’t be celebrating these guys.

In fact, between the Big Short book coming out and the movie coming out, I wrote a screenplay-for-hire where the villain had elements of the main characters in the book. I then was surprised when they turned the book into a movie and somehow convincingly portrayed the shorters as heroes. The movie worked wonderfully well: I kept forgetting how much I would hate these guys in real life.

But it was great to see this movie about the actual underdogs of the stock market, the “dumb money”, mounting a coup and pulling off the ultimate dream: squeezing the shorters. This was the feel-good movie of the year. We root for these scrappy investors, cheer when they pull off their squeeze, howl with indignation when the system screws them over and then breathe a big sigh of relief when they still pull off a bit of a win.

Everybody in The Big Short ended up a billionaire at the end of the movie, profiting off of America’s misery. Nobody in this movie makes out like that, but some of them do okay.

Ultimately, the movie comes down to a fascinating dilemma: the squeezers find that their portfolios have shot up as a result of the squeeze, but they don’t want to sell because they want to make a point, even if they lose everything. Ultimately some sell, but some, like America Ferrara’s character, decide to die on their hill. We, as viewers, can’t decide which they should do. That’s a great dilemma I’ve never seen on screen before. Ferrara got deservedly nominated for Barbie but she was also great in this.

It’s interesting that this movie came out the same year as Lewis’s new book, “Going Infinite”. In this case, the public turned on Lewis for the first time for being overly-admiring of his “maverick” subject. Everybody read the new one and simply pitied Lewis for getting duped by Sam Bankman-Fried. Lewis insisted on seeing SBF as another one of his patented rule-breaking geniuses, whereas everybody else, even if they just read Lewis’s book, could see he was merely a petty crook.

It got so bad that Lewis was featured on the great podcast “Behind the Bastards”. Robert Evans skewered Lewis quite effectively. He points out that Lewis loves it when SBF does Zoom meetings while playing video games, as if that’s a sign of his genius, but Evans points out that everybody in Gen Z does that, and Lewis just didn’t know any young people.

So this movie was the perfect movie for “the year that everybody turned on Michael Lewis.” The Big Short is great, but everybody who sees it should be forced to watch this right after.

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