Dumb Money Review

James Carlstrand reviews Craig Gillespie’s big screen adaptation of 2021s viral GameStop story.

Dumb Money will undoubtedly receive much comparison to The Big Short, after all both films are financial thrillers based on recent history which focus on the practice of shorting (betting against) bonds. However, whereas McKay’s feature tells a highly consequential tale of human greed simmering over with rage against the broken system which allows it, Dumb Money offers a more paired back tale of David vs Goliath which has proven classic Hollywood fodder for decades.

The film based on the pandemic era GameStop scandal follows Keith Gill (Paul Dano), one of the many individual retail investors that big Wall Street firms refer to disparagingly as Dumb Money, and who shares his finance tips on reddit under the pseudonym Roaring Kitty. Gill has faith in Gamestop, which Wall Street has decided to bet against, as an undervalued stock and ends up amassing an army of followers through the reddit site Wall Street Bets who all purchase the stock. This causes the value of the stock to rise exponentially causing what is known as a short squeeze, allowing Gill and his fellow investors to amass small to vast fortunes while costing those who have shorted the stock including Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) to lose billions. 

The film does an impressive job rendering complex financial matters in an understandable and readily palatable way, an even more impressive feat considering they don’t have Margot Robbie in a bath to play with, and the film moves along at a fun frolicking pace. Director Craig Gillespie- whose film credits include I, Tonya and Cruella – employs his punchy, frenetic and needle-drop filled direction with great success, and he keeps the film engaging at all times. Furthermore, the central cast adds real heft and heart, and keep the film grounded in strong character development and a reminder of the impact that these dense and lofty financial matters can have on real lives. Dano once again reminds us what a criminally underrated actor he is as he portrays Gill, a character that could so easily be reduced to a Tik Tok caricature, in a truly three-dimensional way. Moreover, America Ferrera who portrays a nurse and follower of Gill adds a warmth to the film through the community her character finds with the other investors. This community feels particularly poignant against a backdrop of the covid pandemic which Gillespie effectively captures in all the coldness, loneliness, and fear it created. Credit should also be handed out to Shailene Woodley who plays Gill’s wife and uses a largely thankless role to add real gravitas to the film, as we see the increasing burden and stress that the GameStop affair is taking on her plastered across her face. 

My major criticism of the film is that in its quest to create a fun and uplifting film of rag-tag keyboard warriors taking on entrenched financial interests it fails to explore the nuances and dangers of the online financial world itself. The film certainly doesn’t sand off the rough edges of the Wall Street Bets page, as montages of its memes and messages are shown in their full foul, sweary, and frankly disgusting form. However, it also never really calls out or explores the toxicity that such language can produce. Indeed, the only real moment of criticism comes when one character mentions how some members were accused of antisemitic attacks, which Ferrara’s character quickly brushes off as a ‘few bad eggs’. 

Similarly, the film never bores down into the serious dangers and risk that these kinds of online investments can have and how easily they can con people out of their money. The slickness and ease with which regular individuals are parting way with such vast sums of the money through the swipe of a finger should feel more alarming than it does, and interestingly an advert from the Financial Conducts Authority warning audience members to be wary of online get rich quick schemes was screened directly before the film. One also can’t help being a bit suspect of the film’s rather grandiose claim that the GameStop scandal has prompted a major shift in the financial industry, by disincentivising the practice of shorting bonds, given we are only two years removed from the whole saga. 

However, when taken on its own terms Dumb Money is an enjoyable, insightful, and pithy feature of likeable characters taking on the monolithic world of big business and is an entertaining screen depiction of one of the most madcap news stories of recent years. 

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