Dumb Money is a fresh, easy-to-digest movie about the GameStop short squeeze that brought Wall Street to its knees.
PLOT: An amateur investor who regularly posts on YouTube and Reddit bets heavily on GameStop, only to kick off a mini-revolution where many of his followers invest in the stock, bringing it to an incredible high that costs the hedge funds who shorted the stock billions.
REVIEW: Craig Gillespie’s Dumb Money is one of those movies like The Big Short that, while entertaining, will likely leave audiences fuming at the inequality of today’s financial markets. It’s a rigged game where the little guy has very little chance against multi-billion dollar behemoths. Yet, the GameStop saga is unique in that it was a mini-market revolution that worked (for a while) and brought some power players to their knees despite using every tactic they could to rig the game.
This makes a good companion piece to Netflix’s more comprehensive documentary on the same case, Eat the Rich: The GameStop Saga, which gives a more nuanced look at the story than Gillespie’s easy-to-digest good guys vs. bad guys movie. Dumb Money definitely offers star Paul Dano his most likable role to date, with him playing Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty, aka DeepF*ckingValue, whose optimism and refusal to be greedy beat short investors at their own game.
For those who may not know what the term means, “shorting” a stock means betting against it. The hedge funds that shorted GameStop were betting that it would fail spectacularly, but there are risks to shorting a stock. If you’re wrong, there’s no cap on how much money you could lose. That’s about as much as you need to know about investing to enjoy Gillespie’s film, which emphasizes the story’s humanity rather than the nuts and bolts of finance.
While Paul Dano is usually called upon to play psychos and creeps, he’s tremendously likable as the good-natured Gill. In the film, he’s shown to have a decent job in the financial sector and works remotely thanks to COVID-19 (the movie is set at the height of the pandemic). He has a loving wife (Shailene Woodley) and a young child, and while his early gains could have netted him millions, he hung in so that the stock wouldn’t be tanked. He leads the terrific ensemble, which includes Pete Davidson as Gill’s slacker brother, Anthony Ramos as a GameStop clerk (with a mostly masked Dane DeHaan as his boss), America Ferrera, Myja’la Herrold, and Talia Ryder as investors in the GameStop stock, and then Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman and Vincent D’Onofrio as hedge fund guys.
Everyone is good here, with Ferrera exceptionally personable as a COVID-19-impacted nurse investing to claw her way out of debt. Seth Rogen, as Gabe Plotkin, the hedge fund guy who lost billions, could have been a cartoon villain. Still, despite initially setting him up hopelessly out of touch, he gets some moments of humanity as the movie continues. Of everyone, the only cast member that struck me as perhaps a touch too cartoonish was Sebastian Stan as Vlad Tenev, one of the CEO’s of the stock trading app Robin Hood. Then again, after seeing the GameStop documentary, his heightened portrayal wasn’t that far from the truth.
My only issue with Dumb Money is that at just over 100 minutes, it’s (by necessity) a simplified version of a complicated story. We’re invited to cheer against the hedge fund guys, but as the doc explained, it’s more complex than that, as many of us have pensions tied up in these things. Even still, the movie does an excellent job of depicting how Wall Street is a rigged game and that you need to come from generational wealth to beat the system. That a guy like Gill was able to beat them at their own game makes for a compelling yarn, and indeed, Dumb Money is a crowdpleaser in the same vein as the director’s previous I, Tonya.