Adam McKay has had quite the 48 hours: first, HBO ordered a drama pilot he’ll direct and co-executive produce with Official BFF Will Ferrell; now, no less a star than Jennifer Lawrence has signed on to his film chronicling the rise and still-in-progress fall of erstwhile tech wunderkind Elizabeth Holmes.
The announcements seem to confirm that financial crisis comedy The Big Short has carried McKay across the chasm from slapstick to prestige, largely by proving that “financial crisis comedy” wasn’t an oxymoron. Much of the buzz surrounding The Big Short mined the seeming contrast between that movie and, say, Step Brothers. In truth, McKay’s political inclinations, including a distaste for financial institutions, were always present, if submerged: Talladega Nights is a scathing indictment of Bush-era Americanism; the principal antagonists in The Other Guys are white-collar criminals. Now McKay has shed the “unlikely” qualifier and moved on to being a straight-up prestige filmmaker. The Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay helped, too.
HBO, for instance, now groups McKay in the same class as fellow Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow, who will executive-produce a Somali American family drama called Mogadishu, Minnesota. Lawrence, meanwhile, frequently collaborates with David O. Russell, and has a Darren Aronofsky project in the works. That’s a very different peer group from the likes of Judd Apatow and Paul Feig.
But a Holmes movie makes perfect sense for Lawrence — the Theranos founder is certainly a better businesswoman-role match than Joy Mangano, whose middle-aged reinvention was hard to buy from a 25-year-old. And McKay’s Succession (“A family drama that follows the saga of a fictional, American global-media family that is not only rich and powerful, but also powerfully dysfunctional”) sounds right at home on HBO. Most importantly, both projects fall squarely into McKay’s skill set: an Anchorman-tuned ear for satire, and his more recently unearthed eye for capitalism’s failings. That skill set hadn’t found its ideal showcase prior to The Big Short. It’s got plenty of them now.
[Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.]