Craig Gillespie’s “Dumb Money” gathers a few of the major and minor players in the GameStop short squeeze of 2021 and tells their story in a way that illuminates the imbalances on the playing field of the financial market but never forgets to be entertaining, first and foremost. It will be compared to Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” but it feels less like a direct lesson in the evils of capitalism, which is to its benefit. An incredibly likable ensemble really holds Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo’s script together and the director “I, Tonya” finds a nice rhythm that doesn’t succumb to the hyperactive nature of films that try to do that McKay Thing. It’s a relatively concise, no-nonsense, short (100 minutes) comedy that reminds us that even when we think we’re playing the game, the opponent has a different rulebook.
Paul Dano grounds the film as Keith Gill, aka Roaring Kitty, a relatively unknown personality on the Reddit channel wallstreetbets, who became massive when he orchestrated a short squeeze against GameStop. The simplest way to explain this is that major hedge funds make a fortune off the failure of companies, essentially betting that they will go under and profiting off job loss and financial ruin. When Gill convinced his followers, mostly young people, to start buying GameStop stock, it skyrocketed to many times over its initial low buy-in. Gill became a multi-millionaire on paper, but held onto the stock, sending billionaires into a tizzy and leading to a day-trading company called RobinHood colluding with a Hedge Fund owner to stop the trading of the stock. An open market relies on both buying and selling, which essentially means someone here cheated. It led to Congressional investigations, including implications that Gill himself had insider knowledge, because how could someone from the sector of investors that the fat cats call “dumb money” have lost them billions?
Working from a book by Ben Mezrich (who also wrote the non-fiction book that would become “The Social Network”), Blum and Angelo tell this story across a pretty broad canvas. In Boston, there’s Gill, his wife Caroline (Shailene), and his brother Kevin (Pete Davidson), who can’t believe his nerdy sibling is having this kind of impact. They also highlight a few investors, including a nurse named Jenny (America Ferrera), a GameStop clerk named Marcus (Anthony Ramos), and a pair of college kids named Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold). On the other sideline, Seth Rogen nails the spoiled idiocy of Gabe Plotkin, Vincent D’Onofrio sketches the eccentric Steve Cohen, Sebastian Stan bumbles through the arc of RobinHood head Vlad Tenev, and Nick Offerman glares the relatively vile Ken Griffin into cinematic existence.
It’s a great cast and Gillespie manages it well, never allowing anyone to steal focus with a hammy performance. Everyone here is in the same movie, if you know what I mean. These kind of broad pieces often fail to cohere into one vision, but that’s not the case with “Dumb Money,” as Gillespie helps draw a nice balance of necessary information and character beats. I could have used more of the latter in that it sometimes feels like “Dumb Money” lacks insight into the unique dynamics that brought this seismic financial shift to life. Yes, it’s not that movie, but there’s a version that digs a little deeper, asking tougher questions about the forces of inequity and even how the pandemic impacted the event—everyone was at home watching Roaring Kitty clips and trying to regain some semblance of control over a chaotic world. And one wonders if there wouldn’t have been more outrage over the whole thing if the pandemic and other issues of 2020-21 weren’t stealing headlines.
However, “Dumb Money” is better for not falling into too many speeches about the evils of Capitalism. There’s an inferior version of this film that talks down to its audience, or worse expects them to get heavily invested themselves in its retail trading subculture. Gillespie is smart enough to avoid those traps, keeping the dramedy fluid without resorting to melodrama or manipulation. This is what happens when ordinary people finally drill a hole in the dam that the ancient institutions of this society have erected. Sure, it gets plugged up. But they’re not going to stop trying.
This review was filed from the Toronto International Film Festival. It opens on September 15th.
Dumb Money (2023)
Paul Danoas Keith Gill
Pete Davidsonas Kevin Gill
America Ferreraas Jenny Campbell
Nick Offermanas Ken Griffin
Anthony Ramosas Marcos
Sebastian Stanas Vlad Tenev
Shailene Woodleyas Caroline Gill
Seth Rogenas Gabe Plotkin
Vincent D’Onofrioas Steven A. Cohen
Talia Ryderas Harmony
Olivia Thirlbyas Yaara Bank-Plotkin
- Craig Gillespie
Writer (based on the book “The Antisocial Network” by)
- Ben Mezrich
- Lauren Schuker Blum
- Rebecca Angelo
- Nicolas Karakatsanis
- Kirk Baxter
- Will Bates