Available today on Disney+, the mini-series The Dropout tells the true story of Elizabeth Holmes presented as the youngest self-proclaimed billionaire in the world.
What is it about ?
A brilliant, successful-everything entrepreneur, Elizabeth Holmes has become the youngest self-made billionaire in the history of the industry. His flourishing business Theranos is now one of the flagships of the new industry. However, blinded by an excessive ambition and a totally perverted desire for fame, she will lose all her empire and experience an equally spectacular fall…
The Dropout, a series created by Elizabeth Meriwether with Amanda Seyfried, Naveen Andrews, Michel Gill, Utkarsh Ambudkar. Episodes viewed: 3 out of 8. Available on Disney+
False genius, glory and stampede
The Dropoutis the story of a young woman who had everything to become a “Feminine Steve Jobs“. Elizabeth Holmes – played with conviction by Amanda Seyfried – started in life with a very specific idea: to become rich. Not just rich. Billionaire. An idea that did not come to him by chance. She came home from high school one day when she saw her father (Michael Gill) overwhelmed. He had just lost his job at Enron, an American company whose bankruptcy had worldwide repercussions.
Elizabeth is not only determined, she is also brilliant. Also, as soon as she enters university, she seeks the invention that will revolutionize the world and make her rich. She tries, fails and then comes up with a (genius?) idea: inventing a machine that performs inexpensive blood tests. A kind of Shazam of medicine: a simple drop of blood and the diagnosis is in!
It’s easy, at first, to want to encourage Elizabeth, this brilliant Stanford student, with this visionary idea that would change the world of medicine but also the lives of patients since they would no longer have to suffer from countless blood tests. And she knows how to convince the right people – including a wealthy businessman played by a Michael Ironside unrecognizable. She quickly created her company, Theranos. But the image of the brilliant and idealistic young woman is tarnished.
She lives for Theranos and ends up demanding others sacrifice themselves for her cause as easily as she does. Elizabeth drops out of Stanford – hence the title The Dropout, which designates both the dropout student and the dropout. She reaps millions, becomes CEO at under 25 and is on the cover of Forbes.
Her dark side shows up even more when she realizes that her technology is years away from the predicted outcome and she’s not making the right decisions at the time. His lies then turn into a decade of criminal deception with a denouement that the series foreshadows by starting and ending each episode with excerpts from the pre-trial deposition.
If she is not affected by a crisis of conscience, it will soon be the case for her closest collaborators, including Edmond Ku (James Hiroyuki Liao) who is sick of it when he has to have Elizabeth’s invention tested on cancer patients and in chemotherapy.
The Dropout adopts a fairly classic style and remains in the reassuring cocoon of denouncing the excesses of capitalism and more particularly of the world of start-ups without digging into the question any further. And it’s Amanda Seyfried’s performance that stands out. She’s stunning in a series of sequences in front of the mirror as Elizabeth builds up her quirky public persona, complete with a Steve Jobs-inspired black turtleneck, and drastically lowers her tone of voice to be better taken seriously.
The series also looks at the unofficial relationship between Elizabeth and Sunny Balwani (Naveen Andrews), 19 years her senior, who became her closest confidant, perhaps the only one, her spouse and eventually the chief operating officer of Theranos. This strange relationship plays an important role in the series which maintains the blur on its true nature: is it a real love story? A history of abuse? From Elizabeth to Sunny or vice versa? Or is it the alliance of two megalomaniacal sociopaths?
It is perhaps this somewhat easily spectacular side that fails in the series. This true story has enough arguments to impress without adding to it. Theranos market capitalization has reached the crazy sum of more than 10 billion dollars. And the company managed to raise $700 million in investments. All this for a machine whose promise has never been kept.
Elizabeth Holmes was ultimately caught for her trickery. Brought before a court, she was sentenced last January for fraud against her investors.