So much was happening in early 2021, many could be forgiven for completely missing the Wall Street story of a bunch of everyday traders driving the price of video game retailer GameStop through the roof, making the hedge fund managers who held it short that much poorer. In fact, there’s already been three versions of the story: theatrical feature, a TV movie, and a mini-series, despite those events taking place less than three years ago.
Directed by Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) from an adaptation of Ben Mezrich‘s book “The Antisocial Network” by screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, it’s hard not to think of films like The Social Network (mainly due to the Mezrich connection) and Adam McKay‘s The Big Short while watching Dumb Money, which at times might be its biggest bane.
As the film begins, the GameStop stock is below $4 a share, mainly due to hedge fund managers shorting the stock based on their opinion it’s a company that’s cratering. Paul Dano plays Brockton, Massachusetts-based analyst Keith Gill, who invests over $50,000 in the stock, since he’s convinced it’s underpriced, much to the concern of his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley), who just had a baby.
Gill also has an internet presence, giving live portfolio advice as “Roaring Kitty” on his YouTube channel, and regularly pimping how much he likes the GameStop stock. Slowly but surely, Gill’s avid followers begin buying into GameStop, driving the price up as billionaire Wall Street types – mostly represented by Seth Rogen‘s Gabe Plotkin, Nick Offerman‘s Ken Griffin, and Vincent D’Onofrio as Steve Cohen – begin seeing losses in their portfolios, stubbornly holding on as they snub their noses at the “dumb money.” In fact, what Gill and his devotees do is what is called a “short squeeze.”
Then, there are the retail traders, who follow Roaring Kitty’s lead, including a first responder played by America Ferrera, an actual GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos), and two University of Texas students, played by Talia Ryder and Myha’la Herrold. These characters generated the most empathy within the viewer, since they’re starting with almost nothing, and they’re avidly following Roaring Kitty’s advice in hopes of turning things around.
Another part of the equation are Vladimir Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota), founders of RobinHood, who, inspired by #OccupyWallStreet movement, create an app that allows everyday people to trade stocks commission-free. As with all the Wall Street types, essentially the film’s bad guys, they’re played up for the most laughs as utterly cocky douchebags.
In other words, there are many characters introduced fairly swiftly as “Dumb Money” cuts between them, though a lot of the humor still falls on Keith’s relationship with his brother Kevin, played by Pete Davidson at his funniest. In some ways, Kevin is the viewer, commenting on Keith’s growing wealth and maybe helping to dumb it down for those who need it.
Dumb Money is a very different movie for Gillespie from what he’s done before, even when compared to his “biopic” I, Tonya, since he’s essentially juggling so many balls at once, while trying to keep the viewer invested in each one of them without losing track of the central plot.
Despite this being a strong ensemble cast and Dano being particularly good as Gill, no performance really stands out, since there is so much jumping between the characters. In fact, most of the characters only interact within their class, with many characters never interacting at all. Because of this fact, it’s foolhardy to not shine a special spotlight on the work of Editor Kirk Baxter, whose cutting helps Gillespie deliver just the right pace and timing for performances clearly done separately makes Dumb Money particularly impressive. That’s even more the case when real memes from the “Roaring Kitty” devotees are inserted into the storytelling.
The differences in the various class systems in “Dumb Money” are made more apparent, helped by the costumes designed by Kameron Lennox, as well as the hair and makeup teams, but that also involves the production design by Scott Kuzio and Set Decorators Rae Deslich and Paige Mitchell. If you ever want to truly appreciate the work of an art department, watch this movie someday with none of the dialogue, and you can immediately tell where everyone stands class-wise and who you should be rooting for or not. That’s especially important for a movie that takes place during a global pandemic.
Knowing that this was based on a book by Mezrich makes it more obvious what the filmmakers were going for, but the humor is far more overt than anything in David Fincher‘s The Social Network. Although many people gained and then lost a lot of money – the decision when to cash in and sell drives much of the third act tension – make no mistake that this is a comedy. Even so, Composer Will Bates (The Magicians) seems to be deliberately channeling what Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did to win an Oscar for their Social Network soundtrack in some spots.
Making a comedy about Wall Street and something as seemingly esoteric as the rises and falls of a single stock might seem like a fool’s errand, but Craig Gillespie, his cast, and crew do a fine job delivering an entertaining and often quite hilarious look into just such a story in a way that can appeal to haves and have-nots alike.
Dumb Money opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, Sept. 15, before expanding into more theaters on Sept. 22, and ultimately being nationwide on Sept. 29.