'Dumb Money' Isn't Clever Enough to Elevate Its Dry Subject Matter

Directed by Craig Gillespie

Starring Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D'Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, Seth Rogen

Photo courtesy of Elevation Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Sep 22, 2023

For the preteens too young to remember and for everyone else who had better things to concern themselves with in January and February 2021: video game retailer GameStop created quite the stir online and on Wall Street when a 30-something financial analyst decided to post his findings about the company's stock on the subreddit r/WallStreetBets. 

Posting as u/DeepFuckingValue, Keith Gill argued that GameStop was undervalued, sharing his spreadsheets of the stock's performance since his initial investment in 2019. Gill also created YouTube videos and went live on the platform under the alias Roaring Kitty to discuss his thought process. By January 27, 2021, Gill's $53,000 worth of call options, purchased in 2019, had risen to $48 million. 

Gill regularly updated the subreddit and his YouTube subscribers, inevitably prompting others to invest in GameStop. Incredibly, the influx of investors — many of whom had never gotten involved in the stock market previously — began to have real repercussions for hedge funds who were shorting the GameStop stock (that is, betting on its failure).

In a time where the inequities between the rich and the poor were grossly on display, GameStop felt like a win for the underdogs. Not only were the ones who had no choice but to work on the frontlines during the pandemic winning, but those who could afford to bend the lockdown rules in their favour were losing. It's a genuinely fascinating story, emblematic of a unique time with many social and political implications and lessons. 

Perhaps, given all the details and themes, the idea was that Dumb Money contained a story that would tell itself. No need for the flashy fourth wall breaks and celebrity cameos à la The Big Short, or even the dramatic twists of director Craig Gillespie's previous film, I, Tonya. But, in doing away with anything remotely artful in its storytelling, Dumb Money becomes a straightforward information dump that threatens to become dull.

This wooden quality, though, isn't the fault of the cast. The ensemble is well assembled, with Paul Dano leading the charge as Gill in a quiet performance that never becomes outlandish or goofy — the latter trait being reserved for Pete Davidson's take on Gill's loafing little brother, Kevin. Davidson deservedly scores most of the laughs in the film, with comedic talents like Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen given relatively more subdued roles as the wealthy hedge fund managers. Standing out among this crowd is the reliably fantastic America Ferrera, who plays hospital nurse Jennifer Campbell with striking humour and humanity. 

The biggest misgiving of Dumb Money comes from a disconnect between the heart of the story and the audience. When we see the everyday people like Jennifer and GameStop store clerk Marcus (Anthony Ramos) wade through the ups and downs of playing the stock market, their reality is shown through quick snippets of their home life and through their phones. Dumb Money doesn't quite hit the same notes that Up in the Air, and, to a lesser extent, The Big Short, found that dial a viewer in.

Making matters worse is the recency of the GameStop debacle. The impact of a film like BlackBerry largely comes from the distance we have to those events, which enriches our understanding of just how influential and significant that particular product is to the present day. GameStop happening only a couple years ago makes Dumb Money a wrap-up slide in a PowerPoint presentation, rather than a thoughtful retrospective. And even if there aren't any long-term ramifications of the GameStop short squeeze to deeply consider (beyond, "Isn't the stock market unfair?"), this story could have benefited from a few more years on the cinematic backburner to earn some nostalgia points.

There's an audience for Dumb Money who hope to have what happened explained to them, and the film does succeed in that regard. However, the film stops short of truly illustrating just how unfair and how inherently unjust the financial ladder is to climb.
(Elevation Pictures)

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