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Thursday, May 23rd, 2024  

The Dropout

Hulu, March 3, 2022

Mar 03, 2022 Photography by Beth Dubber/Hulu Web Exclusive
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“Truth is stranger than fiction,” the timeless quote goes. This seems to be the driving force behind the glut of biopic series focused on high-profile individuals the general public could not, and cannot, take its eyes off of. The latest in these is The Dropout, the story of the ambitious, wannabe visionary turned con artist, Elizabeth Holmes, her company Theranos, her failure of an invention that claimed to change the face of the medical field, which never actually worked.

The Dropout is built on a number of strong story elements. The first female CEO of Silicon Valley, who is also the world’s youngest self-made billionaire. Her strange personality, and bullheaded charisma, which drew powerful business people and high-level politicians into her world, buying into her fairytales and putting their names behind her and her company, joining her board and recommending her to their friends.

The first three of the eight-episode limited series premiere together, starting at the point where Holmes is leaving home to attend Stanford University as a Presidential Scholar, while her parents’ life is falling apart after her father lost his job. Her overbearing, controlling mother (Elizabeth Marvel) and her weak, downtrodden father (Michel Gill) are a strange combination that don’t explain Holmes’ personality, but are very well-defined characters.

Holmes wants to skip academic processes altogether, hence The Dropout, as she left Stanford very quickly, without completing any qualifications. Before she leaves, she approaches her professors with audacious ideas and requests and really, commands. Bill Pullman and Laurie Metcalf play two of these professors, fantastically portraying impatience, condescension and detachment, which is amplified when faced with Holmes. Metcalf is particularly exciting to watch as she rips into Holmes and delivers some hard truths that leave Holmes stunned, which is exceptionally satisfactory for the viewer. Pullman, however, gets drawn into Holmes’s fantasy world and joins her board.

Meanwhile, Holmes’ social awkwardness is omnipresent, and her behavior and interaction are stilted. She calculates when she’s going to become sexually active and practices party interactions in a mirror. She also practices the low voice that becomes one of her signatures. Strangely, a sexual assault at a college party calibrates her into more conventional reactions.

But it’s Holmes’ tunnel vision and incomprehension of others, that is the reason she succeeded for the brief time that she did. How she managed to fool brilliant people is unfathomable. That’s why watching her was so irresistible. Amanda Seyfried gamely does her best, and at times she succeeds in capturing Holmes’ mannerisms and deranged energy. But Seyfried looks like she has those cotton tubes dentists use to stanch blood shoved in her mouth. She gets close to Holmes’ particular way of speaking, but she’s excessive. That, along with the much-talked-about non-blinking eyes, Seyfried is overdoing it and it’s distracting.

The Dropout has an all-star cast, all of whom deliver: William H. Macy as her benefactor and her competition, Stephen Fry and James Hiroyuki Liao as her grounded scientists, Naveen Andrews as her controlling boyfriend and partner, Alan Ruck as the Walgreen’s executive who buys into Holmes’ wholeheartedly. The crew is also all-star with Elizabeth Meriweather (New Girl) as showrunner and Michael Showalter (The Big Sick) directing four out of the eight episodes.

As great as the cast and the crew is, if it’s a dose of Elizabeth Holmes and her singular deranged personality you’re after, time is better spent watching HBO’s documentary on Holmes, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, which delves deep into her story and does feel far stranger than fiction. (www.hulu.com/series/the-dropout)

Author rating: 5/10

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