September 25, 2023

“Dumb Money” is a New Take on the GameStop Revolution (Review)

I should have expected it — after all, the world has been crazy enough these last few years — but it’s still surreal to see major studio releases about events that happened not only within my lifetime, but during a time when I was actively paying attention to the news. The pandemic has ensured that this has increased over the last few years, but no new release feels more familiar than Dumb Money.

Dumb Money tells the story of a group of amateur investors who were able to put a short squeeze — look it up — on two hedge funds that bet on video game retail company GameStop to fail. The effort was led by YouTuber and financial analyst Keith Gill (played in the film by Paul Dano), a financial broker from Massachusetts who led a ragtag campaign to invest in GameStop to ensure the hedge funds would not succeed in profiting from the company’s demise. The movement led to an SEC investigation and a Congressional hearing, all of which is depicted in the film.

It’s not even about the script. Narratively, Dumb Money follows the broad strokes of real-life events, charting the characters’ journey from mid-2020 to January 2021, when the hearing took place, while the story is great, there’s nothing special when it comes to what’s on the page — which, given the timetable, was probably rushed. A through-line with director Craig Gillespie’s work (which includes The Finest Hours, Cruella and I, Tonya) is a dedicated cast, and Dumb Money is no exception. Here, they elevate the material, turning an admittedly impressive story of real people making a real difference into an entertaining comedic ride that never diminishes the real-world impact, but instead uses the comedy to prove its own point and boil the story down to its absurd roots.

Apart from Paul Dano, the ensemble cast is filled in with big names like Shailene Woodley (Divergent), Seth Rogen (Superbad), Pete Davidson (SNL), America Ferrera (Barbie), Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket), Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), Anthony Ramos (In the Heights) and Sebastian Stan (Captain America). Some get much more development than others, and some are far more fictionalized than the rest, but they’re all there to round out and symbolize a different aspect of the investment movement. Most are investors (the heroes of the story) and some are hedge fund managers, who are painted in a very deliberate light — they’re not evil, despite being the antagonists, but they are misguided, raised with a series of ideals that have placed them in the situation of being on the morally wrong side of history. I appreciate that none of the characters were cardboard cutouts, and you can understand where everyone is coming from, even if you do not agree.

I’ve seen some people label
Dumb Money a “junior” version of Adam McKay’s comedy-drama The Big Short, which I think is a reasonable comparison — but only to a certain extent. There’s a lot of stock market jargon, which is either boiled down for easy understanding or skated over because it doesn’t specifically apply to what’s going on. Despite its best efforts, though, I was never fully sold; I had a good time, but it felt like Dumb Money was trying too hard to justify its existence — creatively speaking, that is — that I didn’t gain much from the experience overall.

The most fun I had was with the cast, who far and beyond understand the assignment. I think this film will age well as a time capsule of this specific event, and an indicator of a movement that is still going on to this day. It’s enough to make the experience worthwhile, if only slightly.

Dumb Money is playing now in select theaters, and will have a wide release on September 29.

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