REVIEW: Dumb Money (2023, dir. Craig Gillespie)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 104 mins

UK Distributor: Black Bear UK

UK Release Date: 22 September 2023

WHO’S IN DUMB MONEY?

Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, Seth Rogen, Dane DeHaan, Myha’la Herrold, Rushi Kota, Talia Ryder

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Craig Gillespie (director, producer), Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum (writers), Aaron Ryder and Teddy Schwarzman (producers), Will Bates (composer), Nicolas Karakatsanis (cinematographer), Kirk Baxter (editor)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

A band of amateur investors hijack the stock market…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON DUMB MONEY?

One of the more amusing stories to come out of 2020 was the unexpected rise in value of US video game retail chain GameStop. From what I understand (and please forgive me if I fudge any of the details), this was due to amateur online investors, many of whom had formed an alliance on the Reddit forum r/WallStreetBets, playing Wall Street at its own game by purchasing several shares of stock in the company, which had been shorted (i.e. bet against) by hedge fund managers to collapse in the wake of the pandemic, and lost them significant money while the new stock holders saw profits grow considerably.

It sounds almost too much like a David vs. Goliath movie, which I suppose is why director Craig Gillespie and writers Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum have turned it into exactly that with Dumb Money, a film that’s just as thoroughly amusing as the story it’s based on.

Set during the winter months of 2020 and 2021, we see that the online crusade is kickstarted by Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a YouTuber and Reddit poster who specialises in stock market speculation. During a livestream, Keith announces that he feels GameStop, which like most retail stores mid-pandemic is suffering greatly, is significantly undervalued and has subsequently invested numerous amounts of stock, with no intention of selling until it reaches a significant amount. This inspires countless other people – including overworked nurse Jennifer (America Ferrera), GameStop employee Marcos (Anthony Ramos), college students Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold), and even Keith’s slacker brother Kevin (Pete Davidson) – to also purchase shares in the company, which soon drives the value price up and up, until it reaches 30 times its original valuation mere weeks prior. Needless to say, this also frustrates the wealthy hedge short sellers and brokers who bet against GameStop, such as hedge fund manager Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and trading platform CEO Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan), who seek to put a stop to all the “dumb money”, which is to describe amateur investment outside of the system.

Gillespie’s film is certainly aiming for a tone and style that isn’t dissimilar to Adam McKay’s The Big Short, and while perhaps that film is overall a bit more sophisticated when it comes to showing the stark realities of the stock market, Dumb Money tries to be just as accessible to non-financial audiences, and mostly succeeds. The script by Angelo and Blum (who adapt the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, who also wrote the book that inspired David Fincher’s The Social Network) explores the online movement of the GameStop short squeeze as the playful, and occasionally hateful, community that it was, with the focus on several people becoming inspired to make money for themselves after growing frustrated by the daily grind of working-class life, many of whom have genuine reasons for wanting to follow Keith Gill’s example. Angelo and Blum, in addition to the fine efforts of the ensemble cast, do well to make you care about these characters, and leave you just as infuriated when the top money-makers make their dastardly moves.

It is an entertaining enough movie to watch, and it’s clear that Gillespie, the writers, the actors, and even editor Kirk Baxter (who won an Oscar on his own efforts on The Social Network) all have a keen eye and ear for the dynamics at play within this unlikely real-life story. However, there are times when its “stick it to the man” attitude can get in the way of telling a much more rounded narrative, where certain elements of the actual story are streamlined or simplified to where it is portrayed as more of a simply David vs. Goliath story than it probably was in reality. It’s clear who you’re meant to like and who to dislike, and again the writers and the actors are good at making either impression, but unfortunately there is a noticeable lack of depth to many of the characters on both sides, nor is there a chance to really stop and take in so much of the financial jargon that the majority of audiences won’t be as quick to pick up upon, leaving it as a straightforward underdog story without many different layers.

Even if the overall execution is somewhat wobbly, Dumb Money does earn some respect for trying its hardest to make a film about the stock market in a pandemic society far more entertaining than it should be. As he has done with previous films like I, Tonya and Cruella, Gillespie offers a neatly tongue-in-cheek directorial style that can often make the rather grim subject matter incredibly lively (look no further than his work on the recent miniseries Pam & Tommy, which shares a number of cast members with this film including Seth Rogen and Sebastian Stan), and here he does manage to make light of the larger-than-life situation with strong assistance from Baxter’s rapid-fire editing that playfully plasters several GIFs and TikTok videos throughout the numerous montages.

It’s a movie that can easily win over a crowd, though in terms of telling the full and honest story of the GameStop short squeeze, it’s clear that more needs to be said outside of an “us vs. them” template.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Dumb Money is a mostly entertaining retelling of the GameStop short squeeze phenomenon, which has some fun performances and a decent sense of humour, though the narrative opts for an all too simple underdog narrative that detracts slightly from the overall impact of the real-life story.

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