Paul Dano and Seth Rogen lead a starry cast in the underdog financial comedy, Dumb Money. Here’s our review:
Forget the meek – it’s the rich douchebags who’ve inherited the earth. Rich douchebags like hedge fund manager Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), who lives in a vast mansion and uses the stock market to make billions from betting on the failure of businesses like the chain of video game stores, GameStop. For a brief moment in 2021, however, a collective of internet dwellers managed to turn the tables on Plotkin and other big-money investors like him.
Running counter to the recent trend of dramas about executives launching successful products (Tetris, Air, Blackberry), Dumb Money is therefore a different sort of capitalist success story: one about ordinary people poking a finger in the eye of the rich douchebags on Wall Street, and exacting revenge on those who triggered the 2008 financial crisis and were never truly held to account. But Dumb Money is also a movie about the pandemic, and it feels strange to think that the latest film from director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) is a period piece in a way – fully plugged into a 2020-to-2021 era of cat memes, face masks, social distancing, and, at least for people living in the US, government-issued stimulus cheques.
Which brings us to Keith Gill, played by Paul Dano in a performance full of quietly nervous, nerdy energy. Better known by his handle Roaring Kitty, Keith became an online celebrity for his bullish enthusiasm for GameStop stocks – a company regarded by the market as being on its last legs in 2020. Keith, on the other hand, sees gold in the company, and streaming live from his basement, regales a growing online audience with his theories about its prospects on the stock market. Fortunately, his wife (Shailene Woodley) is supportive of his decision to invest their life’s savings in a company widely predicted to go bust any month now.
Among those predicting Gamestop’s doom is the aforementioned Gabe Plotkin at hedge fund Melvin Capital, who’s bet substantial sums of money that the chain of video game stores will go sideways. Anyone who’s seen The Big Short will probably remember what it means to short a stock in trading. If you haven’t, then I’m not about to clamber into a bathtub and explain it all to you. It’s perhaps sufficient to say that there’s a downside to shorting a stock: if the price of that stock goes up rather than down, the person who took the gamble can potentially lose a lot of money. This, predictably, is exactly what happens when Keith and his growing army of followers start buying GameStop stocks and inflating their value.
Such is the basis for a fleet-footed, sparky comedy drama that looks and sounds like David Fincher’s The Social Network reimagined for the fidgety, restless age of TikTok and Reddit (perhaps coincidentally, the book on which Dumb Money is based is called The Antisocial Network). Dano makes for a watchable lead, though Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo’s script places almost as much weight on the followers Keith almost certainly never met in person, and who represent a cross section of American society. America Ferrara as care worker Jenny; Anthony Ramos as GameStop worker Marcus; Talia Ryder and Myha’la Herrold as a pair of indebted students who gamble the last of their money on Keith’s hunch. All treat Keith like an oracle, holding onto their stocks or even doubling down as he does, and studying his financial returns on Reddit like an article of faith.
(Dumb Money’s supporting cast is so expansive, and so good, it’s difficult to shoehorn a mention for all of them into a review such as this. Look out for Nick Offerman, Sebastian Stan and the great Clancy Brown in small yet pivotal roles. There’s also Pete Davidson as Keith’s sweary stoner brother; a decade or so ago, it’s a part that probably would have gone to Seth Rogen.)
Eventually, the financial establishment closes ranks, and not everyone swept up in the frenzy gets to cash out with a fortune. In this respect, Dumb Money – brisk and light though it is – paints a somewhat depressing landscape of late stage capitalism. The GameStop moment was just that: a moment, and as with any investment gamble, there are more losers than winners.
For all its disarming character moments and feel-good catchphrases, derived from Reddit groups – diamond hands, HODL, to the moon – the underlying sentiment left by Dumb Money is perhaps more gloomy than intended. As a society, we can no longer imagine a version of reality that isn’t led by markets and net worth, that isn’t essentially a game that’s rigged in favour of the already wealthy.
The rich douchebags have already inherited the earth. All the rest of us can do is study the game, look for openings, and try to find a way to grab at least a slice of the douchebags’ wealth for ourselves.
Dumb Money is out in UK cinemas on 22 September.
Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:
Buy our Film Stories and Film Junior print magazines here.
Become a Patron here.