In 2020, in the middle of a global pandemic, something happened on Wall Street that captured the world’s attention. A group of day traders invested a ton of money buying up GameStop stock, a stock the experts thought was trash, driving up the price and sending billionaire hedge fund managers, who had invested billions betting against the stock, into a panic. The fact that it was regular people gambling on an old school brick and mortar videogame store using a free app makes it all the more fascinating. Even at the time it was clear that a compelling movie could be made out of these people competing successfully with a bunch of billionaires at their own game.
Dumb Money (96 minutes, minus the end credits) isn’t quite that movie. It has been turned into a story about the have-nots, led by a kind-hearted family man who is legitimately in love with the stock, rising up against the haves in a game that has been rigged. It is interesting in the way it explores the GameStop saga by the decisions that were made. It doesn’t get into the nuts-and-bolts of the market, which most likely would’ve been boring. It dramatizes the news story by essentially reenacting it, using a great cast and a sense of humor. In that way it is examining a moment in time indicative of the class struggle this country is forever embroiled in.
Unfortunately, it is less interesting as a piece of entertainment. For the most part, it is kind of dry. There are a few laughs. The presentation of the wealthy schemers in shock at getting a taste of their own medicine is somewhat amusing, as is Pete Davidson playing the Pete Davidson role. However, its black and white heroes and villains approach is unconvincing. The class conflict is obvious, particularly because of the way the drama ended, but this screenplay (based on the 2021 non-fiction book The Anti-Social Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees by Ben Mezrich) shoehorns everybody into such a restrictive position that it prevents all except one character from being three dimensional.
That would be Keith Gill, the man who started the GameStop surge. He was just a guy who believed in the stock and wanted to stick it to the hedge funds. He posted some videos online as Roaring Kitty, developed a following and then watched as things took off beyond his wildest dreams. Paul Dano plays him as a good man who loves his family, but is more concerned with making a statement than with making money. He is the centerpiece of the story, becoming the main representative of the nobodies taking on the ultra-rich.
The movie then introduces several people who listened to Roaring Kitty’s advice and decided to invest. Two debt-riddled college students, a single mom struggling to put food on the table and a salesman at GameStop are examples of the types of people who saw their fortunes change (multiple times) by jumping on this train, but they are never more than examples. The real Reddit community that inspired them (WallStreetBets) is barely touched upon, especially its offensive aspects (which are problematically waved away in one very weak line of dialogue). The CEOs they are fighting with are given broad characterizations that at least give a sense of how heartless they are. Still, Dumb Money is too much surface without a whole lot of depth.
The surface is engaging, though. Director Craig Gillespie keeps things moving, showing viewers how this happened and why it was such a big deal. But if you already know the story, Dumb Money doesn’t add much. It turns the intrepid investors into folk heroes and guys like Gabe Plotkin, Ken Griffin and Robin Hood co-founder Vlad Telev into larger-than-life, bumbling, scumbags, betting on misfortune and conspiring to win at any cost. There is undoubtedly truth there, yet it lacks complexity. It works okay as a fast-paced retelling of a captivating series of events. It just doesn’t really have anything more to say about them, or about the people involved in them, then you could have learned from watching the news.
2¾ out of 5
Paul Dano as Keith Gill
Seth Rogen as Gabe Plotkin
Nick Offerman as Ken Griffin
Pete Davidson as Kevin Gill
Sebastian Stan as Vlad Tenev
Vincent D’Onofrio as Steve Cohen
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo