3 out of 5 stars

Dumb Money is marketed as a ‘David vs. Goliath’ story. The only problem is David defeats Goliath. Based on a true story, the latest film from Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya), is a comedy-drama about a group of internet investors who stood up to hedge funds who thought the video game store GameStop would fail on the financial market.

Paul Dano (The Batman) leads a star-studded cast as Keith Gill, a.k.a ‘Roarding Kitty’, a financial analyst for MassMutual who moonlighted as a vlogger who convinced thousands of “retail” investors to bet on GameStop. While the film takes liberties with its source material, adapting Ben Mezrich’s book The Antisocial Network, it’s still an enjoyable ride that may overstate the social change these events led to.

For those not well-versed in Wall Street and the inner workings of investment trading, the film does a great job of explaining the role of “shorting” stocks and how hedge funds control the markets. It’s reminiscent of The Big Short (2015), the last major mainstream film about the US financial market, adapting complex topics into digestible entertainment. But while Adam McKay’s film used fourth-wall-breaking, Dumb Money opts for a less risky screenplay that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but still works, which is a credit to screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo.

While Dumb Money takes inspiration from modern biopics like The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Social Network (2010), the latter feels particularly influential in terms of the music score by Will Bates. And, interestingly enough, Dumb Money was executive produced by The Winklevoss Twins, who famously sued Mark Zuckerberg and were played by Armie Hammer in The Social Network.

In the opening of Dumb Money, Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), founder of Melvin Capital Management, is on the phone in an empty beachside mansion, trying to tear it down to build a tennis court for his family to enjoy during the pandemic when he gets another call about the rising stock of GameStop. Before we see why this scares him, the story whisks us back six months earlier, diving into the many threads this investment adventure would drag along—including the financially struggling Gill, who has the full support of his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley), Keith’s downbeat brother (Pete Davidson), two struggling college students (Myha’la, Talia Ryder), a bankrupt nurse (America Ferrera), a GameStop employee (Anthony Ramos), hedge fund billionaires Kenneth C. Griffin (Nick Offerman) and Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio), and the founders of investment app Robinhood (Sebastian Stan and Rushi Kota), where the rag-tag band of investors jacked up the price of GameStop. 

With such a large ensemble, it’s easy for players to fall behind and the film to spread the audience’s investment in characters thin. The actors are well cast and each does a great job with the screen time they have; injecting fun, humanity, and desperation into each moment. But the clear star of the film is Paul Dano, the man behind the craze, considered a “nerd” by his brother but a “badass” by his wife and the Reddit community. He’s loving, smart, and in way over his head.

Shailene Woodley is also fantastic in a small role as Caroline, Keith’s supportive wife. Too bad we don’t get to learn more about her beyond her unwavering loyalty to her family. Pete Davidson also steals scenes as Keith’s hilarious brother, who doesn’t own a house or car and eats his DoorDash deliveries before dropping them off. And yet he’s also tender, crying for his sister they lost to Coronavirus and getting Keith a pair of Nike’s that were stolen in high school.

Dumb Money is at its best when allowing the characters to have fun (whether depicting the wanton extravagance of billionaires, or adult brothers fighting in the backseat of their parent’s car), but it also doesn’t skirt the severity of its setting: the COVID-19 pandemic. 

January 2021 was characterized by busy hospitals, abandoned public transit, strict mask mandates, socially distanced university courses, and Zoom congressional hearings. While it allows the characters to have fun, like when Anthony Ramos backs out of his job at GameStop performing the TikTok dance to “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion, Dumb Money never undercuts the importance of the pandemic in its relevance to its themes.

This story is happening during times of economic crisis for millions of people, with any hope of financial prosperity looking unlikely. The filmmakers do well utilizing TikTok videos, newsreels, and actual footage from the time to ground the film in recent history, reigniting the seriousness of this crisis for many. While the rich got to party and enjoy their extravagances, students and essential workers were in debt and fighting for day-to-day survival. The film uses COVID as the backdrop for why so many people invested in GameStop, angrily pushing back against the greed of Wall Street. However, Dumb Money’s self-seriousness undercuts the finished product. 

When it was announced MGM had bought the rights to the book proposal in 2021 (not even weeks after events had unfolded), many wondered if it was too soon to make a movie about something still ongoing. And even now, over two years later, Dumb Money’s conclusion of victory for the little guy, for “David” over “Goliath”, feels too optimistic. The rich are still rich and the poor are still poor.

At the end of Dumb Money, clips of real congressional hearings spliced with text describing how the GameStop ordeal changed Wall Street aren’t fully realized. The film struggles to find tension and doesn’t showcase a strong enough fallout for its events. The conclusion thus doesn’t feel like a resounding wave, more a tiny ripple. It’s a window into a time of isolation and despair that offered a ray of hope for financial equality that was never fully realized.

Dumb Money ultimately works as a funny and intriguing look at this never-before-seen economic fight between the classes that dominated a week of news during COVID lockdowns. However, it unfortunately lacks a groundbreaking conclusion to warrant the film being made just two years later.

USA | 2023 | 104 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

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Cast & Crew

director: Craig Gillespie.
writer: Lauren Schuker Blum & Rebecca Angelo (based on ‘The Antisocial Network’ by Ben Mezrich).
starring: Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley & Seth Rogen.