Dumb Money isn’t the most searing dig at capitalism out there, but it gets by with its sharp humor, strong cast, and unpredictable momentum.
Dumb Money made me listen to Cardi B’s WAP for more than five seconds. The film should be grateful I’m not deducting two stars for that alone.
I can’t immediately recall a film based on real events that was made this soon after the actual events. When I was reading about Dumb Money for the first time and learned that it was about a GameStop financial debacle, my first thought was, “Wait, not that last one, right? Didn’t that just happen?” The GameStop short squeeze of 2021 was a story that I followed for a little while but then slowly stopped paying attention to. So I’m not an expert on it, but I already knew the gist of what happened, and its recency at least means it’s fresh enough on my mind for me to have had someknowledge going in.
Directed by Craig Gillespie of I, Tonya fame, Dumb Money stars Paul Dano as YouTube/Twitch streamer Keith Gill, who insists that GameStop’s stock is undervalued and that he and his followers need to invest. The phenomenon takes off on Reddit, GameStop’s stock prices skyrocket, and Wall Street hedge funds who have been short selling their stocks find themselves squeezed out of billions of dollars. What does that all mean? To give the shortest, simplest summary possible, these rich investors had been exploiting GameStop’s supposedly declining stock value to make themselves more money, but then find themselves at tremendous losses when that value shoots up.
From that point, the short squeeze as portrayed in Dumb Money becomes a battle between the rich corporate elites like Kenneth C. Griffin (Nick Offerman) and Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), and the down-on-their luck everypeople like GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos) and medical worker Jennifer Campbell (America Ferrera). Also involved is Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan), CEO of the financial technology services company RobinHood that’s used to complicate the fight even further. And a pair of girls (Myha’la Herrold and Talia Ryder) who also get swept up in the mania. And Keith’s freeloading brother (Pete Davidson), with whom Keith has a strained relationship.
As you can clearly tell, there’s a lot that Dumb Money has to juggle. And that’s without considering how complicated the mechanics of the squeeze itself are, both in real life and within the confines of the film. Dumb Money knows this and very briskly moves itself along, usually to its great benefit. This is a rapidly escalating story whose flow leaves you unsure as to whether the next scene will contain a more intimate emotional moment or a rage-inducing consequence that pops up out of nowhere. You feel the quick passage of time within the tight 105 minutes, but you get to know everyone just enough to be invested (I didn’t mean to make that pun, but I’m glad it happened) in them. With an ensemble cast this big, it’s a bit disappointing to say that no performance stands out as being amazing. But everyone’s still really good, doing exactly what they need to do, if not going above and beyond.
Dumb Money is a very transparent middle finger to seedy billionaire types, which you’d know even without the literal middle finger made of money on one of its posters. The squeezers led by Gill are being motivated by both their desire to stick it to the rich as much as possible and their own greed as their returns keep going up. As the film continues and the crooked nature of the CEOs and elites becomes clearer, there is a definite satisfaction in seeing them flounder and panic when their money goes down the drain. Dumb Money isn’t exactly trying to play both sides here; it clearly wants to build up Gill’s side as the inspiring underdogs, and it does that well without it feeling too forced.
When the original events took place in 2021, it was very weird to see a bunch of Reddit users and streamers come out as legitimate fighters for a cause of this nature and actually make a huge impact. Not that the internet’s never led to change, but I’ve never seen this specific social media environment have quite this level of power. This makes Dumb Money’s very familiar and debatably tired tropes of fighting the establishment feel somewhat fresh.
That could also be a byproduct of how recent these events are, but the film’s juxtaposition of that environment’s silly memes with the earth-shattering actions of those behind them really highlight what a strange age we’re in right now. At the same time, there’s undoubtedly an inherent selfishness to the “little people” making it all happen, leading to recklessness that comes with its own consequences and shows the danger of playing with fire. That observation is dulled by the film’s clear stance in favor of this side, but it adds a little extra intrigue to the whole situation.
I obviously can’t confirm how much of the film’s many real-world clips are … well, from the real world. But it certainly feels like it’s most if not all of them, and I really like how they’re mixed and edited with the fictionalized versions of the characters. Sure, I had to be reminded that Chris Cuomo exists, but it’s worth it for that added immersion. What dilutes that immersion are the soundtrack’s many needle drops and how much they nearly overpower several scenes. Though to be fair, it’s a largely hip hop/hip hop adjacent soundtrack, which isn’t my favorite music to begin with, so maybe I’m just biased? Throw in some alternative rock or something and I’d probably be all over it.
Dumb Money is not going to shake the world in any way, shape, or form. There are plenty of films that dig into corrupt capitalism and financial espionage with much more bite. But it still gets by as a solid film with its sharp humor, strong cast, and unpredictable momentum (even if you know the story, it’s hard to tell when each event is going to happen). I don’t have a ton more to say, since its merits pretty much speak for themselves. This is also a rare case where we don’t have the hindsight to know how important the film’s events will be in the following years, so I feel it’s only fair to judge Dumb Money as a film of the moment. And in the moment, I had a good time.
Dumb Money premiered at TIFF 2023 on September 8 and will be released in select US theaters on September 15, nationwide on September 29, and in UK cinemas on September 22, 2023.