Back in January of 2021, I, like most of the internet, was fascinated at what was happening with Gamestop. For a company that up until that point was floundering financially, it suddenly had an extreme surge of stock prices entirely attributed to Reddit and memes. It was gripping to watch and even more entertaining to see the fallout of it. Not just in terms of regulations imposed by Congress and how several hedge funds collapsed due to the events, but because studios were also scrambling to create a film adaptation of these events. Now, two years later, we have that adaptation: Dumb Money.
I admit, my interest in the topic mostly stems from my positive memories of Gamestop. Most of my formative gaming memories are associated in some way with Gamestop, so seeing a movie centering on the company would at the very least have me curious about it. Making it about a complicated saga like the Gamestop short squeeze was also another point in its favor, if only because I could learn more about it and the complicated logistics that led to millions upon millions in gains as well as billions in losses. By the time Dumb Money ends, while I admit it was a fun ride that captured the zeitgeist of the time, I still felt like I knew just about as much about what happened in 2021 as I did when I entered the theater.
Director: Craig Gillespie
Release Date: September 15, 2023 (Limited Release), September 29, 2023 (Theatrical)
Set during the Covid pandemic, Keith Gill (Paul Dano) is living a day-to-day job trying to support his family. When he isn’t working, he usually streams on YouTube as Roaring Kitty and shares stock investment advice there as well as on Reddit. He believes that one stock in particular, the stock of Gamestop, is undervalued and could be worth a lot with proper investment. This creates a snowball effect where more and more people begin to invest in Gamestop, driving up the stock prices to insane degrees. This massive influx of money affects plenty of normal people who are looking to make some cash, but also the heads of hedge funds like Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), who is losing billions due to the actions of Gill and the rest of r/WallStreetBets. With a spotlight shining on Reddit and Gill’s impact on the stock market, several other major businesses, and the government are roped into this ordeal, who are all trying to figure out just how the hell did Gill and r/WallStreetBets bring the stock market to its knees.
At its core, Dumb Money is an ensemble feature where we see how its cast is impacted by the decisions of Paul Dano’s Gill. Whether it be a lowly Gamestop employee to a billionaire hedge fund CEO, the film consistently cuts back and forth between its various characters in order to drive home its point: screw the rich. It’s pretty unsubtle about this too, as the rich will have assistants and private chefs serve them while the poor have to deal with the brunt of the Covid pandemic as we literally see the monetary value of everyone pop on screen. Most of those poorer characters will bemoan that the economy is unfair and that the events of the Gamestop short squeeze will help wake Wall Street up and show them that the people have the power. It’s a message we’ve seen before done better, but that doesn’t make it bad.
But for a movie that tries to show the importance of the Gamestop short squeeze, we don’t really learn much, if anything, about it and how it even happened. This isn’t like The Big Short where the film will openly try to educate viewers on the various economic policies and machinations of Wall Street in order for its events to make sense. Some familiarity is expected with what in the world is going on in this movie. Dumb Money will explain some of its key terms diegetically, like diamond hands, but everything else comes across like a flurry of noise and insider lingo that is inaccessible for those who are trying to use this movie to learn just what the hell happened back then. It gives you the broad strokes, but none of the finer details.
Most of the film is centered around Gill’s familial drama and the relationship between him, his brother, played by Pete Davidson, and his wife, played by Shailene Woodley. There is also some light commentary about the impact that Covid had on families and this highlights the disparities between how normal people and rich socialites approached it, but that’s usually sidelined in favor of the more immediate family drama. The drama comes from whether or not Gill should cash out his stock, making him a millionaire, or if he should keep on riding it “to the moon.” While the film clearly establishes the emotional stakes on why he should sell, it doesn’t really offer up a counterpoint, making his decision to hold firm feel simultaneously expected, but also without proper context. The quiet emotional moments with his family are nice, but once the film really gets going and the stock drama takes hold, those moments lose their heart and soul.
When Dano isn’t on screen offering a, to be blunt, understated and mousy performance, the rest of the supporting cast is pulling heavy duty despite not really serving any real purpose. There are four different characters who all fall into the role of “we are poor and the money we can make from this squeeze can help us a lot,” but they have little variation between them. They all say the exact same thing and have the exact same opinions on the events happening, making the focus on them feel somewhat repetitive. I can at least excuse the numerous scenes focusing on the multiple major hedge fund CEOs because they factor heavily in the climax due to the inevitable government intervention. Those characters are based on real people with real-world profiles. These everyday stand-ins aren’t, so they just serve as mouth pieces for the film’s themes that we already understand.
That doesn’t mean the film isn’t still entertaining to watch. I was invested in all of the chaos surrounding the stock’s rapid rise and the various speed bumps and twists that happened within. I can say with certainty that there were some moments when I realized the scale of what was happening and how it was affecting all parties involved made my jaw drop. These moments came in the form of montages where news anchors were commenting on the events, but again, offering no real insight as to why or how of it all. It’s more entertaining than informative, but that’s not really an indictment against Dumb Money. It’s more of an indictment against the expectations I had going into the film.
There is something of value to the story that Dumb Money wants to tell. It’s been advertised as a David vs. Goliath story and that does hold true. The biggest issue is that it loses itself in trying to sell you on this big idea but doesn’t really explain the why or how. When it does offer up an explanation, it’s usually very general and non-specific, leaving audience members feeling impressed with the scale of the event but not really knowing anything meaningful about it. But by the time we reached the credits, I was left with a resounding feeling of “well that happened.” I wasn’t disappointed, but I can’t deny I wanted a little bit more from Dumb Money.