Dumb Money

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Craig Gillespie’s “Dumb Money” gathers a handful of the key and minor actors in the GameStop short squeeze of 2021 and presents their narrative in an insightful fashion, demonstrating the inequities on the playing field of the financial market. But the movie always remembers to be enjoyable first. It will be likened to Adam McKay’s “The Big Short,” but to its advantage it is less of a straightforward lesson in the sins of capitalism. The writing by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo is held together by a very likeable cast, and the “I, Tonya” filmmaker finds a great cadence that avoids the too busy style of movies that attempt to do that McKay Thing.

The film’s protagonist is Keith Gill, alias Roaring Kitty, played by Paul Dano. Roaring Kitty was previously unknown on the Reddit forum wallstreetbets before orchestrating a short squeeze on GameStop, which catapulted him to fame. The simplest explanation for this is that large hedge funds earn handsomely from business failures, basically betting on their demise and reaping the benefits of employment losses and financial disaster. GameStop stock rose many times over its initial modest buy-in when Gill persuaded his followers, who were primarily young people, to purchase it. In order to suspend stock trading, a day trading company named RobinHood and a hedge fund owner conspired. Gill became a multi-millionaire on paper but hung onto the stock, sending billionaires into a tizzy.

An open market depends on buying and selling, thus somebody scammed here. How could someone from the group of investors that the rich guys refer to as “dumb money” have cost them billions of dollars? This prompted congressional inquiries, which included allegations that Gill himself had inside information.

Blum and Angelo use a non-fiction book by Ben Mezrich, who also penned the non-fiction book that was converted into “The Social Network,” to tell this story over a sizable amount of space. Gill, his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley), and his brother Kevin (Pete Davidson) live in Boston. Kevin is in disbelief that his nerdy brother is making such an effect.

They also spotlight a few investors, such as Marcus, a GameStop employee (Anthony Ramos), Jenny, a nurse, and Riri and Harmony, two college students (Talia Ryder and Myha’la Herrold). On the flip side, Sebastian Stan stumbles through the role of RobinHood leader Vlad Tenev, Seth Rogen nails the spoilt foolishness of Gabe Plotkin, Vincent D’Onofrio draws the oddball Steve Cohen, and Nick Offerman glares the somewhat evil Ken Griffin into cinematic existence.

The cast is excellent, and Gillespie controls them well, ensuring that no one ever steals the show with a hammy performance. With “Dumb Money,” Gillespie develops a robust supply of broad works that rarely fail to cohere into one image.

But I could have used more of the latter because “Dumb Money” occasionally lacks understanding of the particular factors that gave rise to this major financial upheaval. Yes, it’s not that film, but there is another version of “Dumb Money” that probes a little further, raising more difficult issues regarding the forces of injustice and even how the pandemic affected the event—everyone was at home watching Roaring Kitty videos and trying to regain some semblance of control over a chaotic world. One also wonders if there would not have been more outcry over the entire incident if the pandemic and other concerns of 2020–21 hadn’t been stealing the show.

However, “Dumb Money” is superior since there are fewer talks about the negative aspects of capitalism. There is a subpar version of this movie that talks down to its viewers or, worse yet, assumes they to become deeply involved in its retail trading subculture. These pitfalls are cleverly avoided by Gillespie, who keeps the dramedy moving without using dramatization. This is what occurs when regular people eventually break through the dam that this society’s historic institutions have built. Yes, the hole is filled. But the people won’t give up trying.

This review was submitted from the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. On September 15, “Dumb Money” will premiere.

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