This review was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the film being covered here wouldn’t exist.When it comes to the rich versus the poor, we’ve seen plenty of films—especially recently with movies like The Menu or Triangle of Sadness, just to name a few—where despite the rallying cry to “eat the rich,” the wealthy always win, the little guy continues to stay small, and Robin Hood becomes little more than a sign of potential hope. Dumb Money, the latest film from Cruella and I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie, shows the power of what can happen when the little guys team up and unite to fight the power.
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Dumb Money explores the short squeeze of GameStop in 2021, wherein Reddit investors came together—mostly under the advice of YouTuber Keith Gill aka Roaring Kitty (played by Paul Dano)—and shook Wall Street as they bet that GameStop shares would fall. This unifying action left hedge funds in trouble and showed that investors attempting to potentially make their own fortunes could break the system.
Written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, and based on the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, Dumb Money rarely focuses on one individual, but rather, the group of people that was impacted by this stock market anomaly. While Keith Gill is very much the ringleader of this trend, Dumb Money follows everyone from the 1% (represented by Vincent D’Onofrio, Seth Rogen, Nick Offerman, and Sebastian Stan as the co-founder and CEO of the trading app Robinhood), to those who put their faith in the real Robin Hood of Keith Gill. This includes everyone from a couple in college (Myha’la Herrold and Talia Ryder) who are already in an insurmountable amount of debt and attempt to get out through this stock, Jennifer Campbell (America Ferrera), a nurse who is struggling to get by during the height of the pandemic, Marcus (Anthony Ramos), an actual GameStop employee with less than $200 to his name, and a consistently irritating boss (Dane DeHaan).
‘Dumb Money’ Echoes ‘The Big Short’
Gillespie’s direction can’t help but remind of Adam McKay’s approach to the stock market in The Big Short, mixed with little touches of The Social Network (the first time we see Keith sit down at his YouTube setup in his basement, it reminds of Mark Zuckerberg getting in the zone, right down to Will Bates’ thematically similar score), but it’s the fragmentation of this story into different perspectives that makes it stand out. The way Blum and Angelo evenly distribute the narrative makes it so Dumb Money feels more about the community than the individual, as the hyenas attempt to take out the lions. Especially as the stock starts to soar and money starts to become ridiculously high for the people who need it, Dumb Money shows how such a remarkable occurrence would be life-changing, whereas, for the higher-ups, it’s an inconvenience that will eventually be righted.
But this is also an excellent showcase for Dano, as his take on Keith Gill is endearing, and makes us understand why so many people would risk their life savings for this man. A rallying cry becomes, “If he’s in, I’m in,” as they decide whether to sell their stocks, holding on making a choice depending on what he says. His character’s family, including his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley), his listless brother Kevin (Pete Davidson), and his parents Elaine and Steve (Kate Burton and Clancy Brown), have no idea what the hell their son is doing. While Keith does become the main character of sorts here, Dumb Money still focuses on the smaller community of his family and the impact this entire scenario has on them.
While Blum and Angelo’s screenplay excels at showing how easy it was for everyday people to bet against GameStop, Dumb Money does struggle in how to present the often toxic Reddit community of the WallStreetBets subreddit. Gillespie handles this by throwing a series of memes and videos on the screen and letting us see the mania that arose on the site, yet mostly ignores the noxious language and ideas thrown around liberally. In fact, it’s only Rogen’s Gabe Plotkin who comments on how the group is saying things that maybe shouldn’t be said. This Reddit is integral to Dumb Money, and yet, the jokes, memes, and questionable outbursts are sort of just strewn in front of the audience to let them make of it what they will.
‘Dumb Money’ Precisely Captures a Moment in Time
However, Dumb Money is also surprisingly effective at presenting the world during the early days of COVID in a way that few films have been able to do. Most of the characters wear masks throughout the film (it’s easy to not realize the rat-tailed GameStop manager is Dane DeHaan until he lowers his mask), and characters are often telling others to pull their masks back up, presenting the subtle uncertainty of the time that was only heightened by constant attempts to take down the authority that had led the way for too long.
This is best presented through Ferrera’s Jenny, another character who it is hard not to root for, as she risks her health working at the hospital, while she looks for love, tries to stay afloat for her two kids, and just wants to find a way out of her financial situation. If Keith is the leader of this operation, Jenny is one of his most loyal devotees, as her reciting of “If he’s in, I’m in” could mean an entirely different life for her, or stagnation in the status quo. Like in this year’s Barbie, Ferrera is great at showing the everyday frustrations of a normal person wanting better for her life.
Dumb Money is a mostly smart handling of a major recent event. While it builds off the type of storytelling utilized in The Big Short and The Social Network, Gillespie, Blum, and Angelo’s exploration of a group makes this feel unique in its own way. In this David vs. Goliath battle, the film gives hope that change on a large scale could be possible and does this in a charming, entertaining narrative with a great cast from top to bottom.
Dumb Money had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and comes to theaters starting September 15.