‘Dumb Money’ movie review: Paul Dano, Pete Davidson shine in laugh-riot on the GameStop short squeeze

Craig Gillespie’s film guarantees unbridled fun with its uncompromising re-telling of how a cat-tee-clad Redditor/YouTuber and his loyal followers caused a never-seen-before revolution in Wall Street

Published - October 15, 2023 05:49 pm IST

Paul Dano in a still from ‘Dumb Money’

Paul Dano in a still from ‘Dumb Money’ | Photo Credit: Sony Pictures Entertainment

The frenzy on the internet was such that even those who weren’t familiar with the everyday affairs of the financial world were made aware of the 2021 GameStop short squeeze. A film about a bunch of meme-creating Redditors driving up a penny stock that forced Wall Street analysts to a reality check is expected to be funny. But little did I expect that Craig Gillespie’s film, based on ‘The Antisocial Network’ by Ben Mezrich, would turn out to be such an uncompromising laugh riot that glues you to the screen throughout its 100-minute runtime.

Dumb Money feels like an infectious dark joke that tells of something severe and stark, one that ridicules what’s considered no laughing matter. In Brockton, Massachusetts, marketing professional and YouTuber Keith Gill (Paul Dano) is laughed at by his pals for investing almost $50 grand in call options in a penny stock of a long-struggling video game retailer called GameStop. “It’s the next Blockbuster,” says Gill’s friend and finance bro Briggsy (Deniz Akdeniz). But Gill believes in the stock, and with some encouragement from his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley), he continues to share his analyses to a small but loyal audience on a subreddit called WallStreetBets under the username DeepF***ingValue and on YouTube as Roaring Kitty. Rapidly, the stock price begins to surge and a ‘revolution’ begins, and though it seems to be led by Gill, we get the sense that a few have been sharing his sentiments.

Behind those numbers on those balance sheets and charts are real people investing their hard-earned money on the say of a YouTuber wearing a cat-tee and a bandana. For frontline worker Jennifer Campbell (America Ferrera), having suffered through a disaster of a year due to the pandemic, this is the only hope to pay back her debt and take better care of her child. College student Harmony (Talia Ryder) wants to stick it up to the hedge fund firms who have long been accused of gatekeeping Wall Street, but her supportive girlfriend Riri (Myha’la Herrold) wants her to look at it as a means to pay back her student loan. There’s also the unhappy GameStop store employee and immigrant Marcos (Anthony Ramos), who needs the “tendies” — Gill’s term for the capital gains.

Dumb Money (English)
Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Seth Rogen, America Ferrera
Runtime: 104 minutes
Storyline: A Redditor and his audience drive up the price of a worthless penny stock to historical heights, causing an uproar and some unforeseen consequences

The growing desire to scale up the capital heights, post the Wall Street crash in 2008, and the need to democratise the system all reached a crescendo at GameStop, which was when the Wall Street pundits and short-sellers who like to put down meagre retail investors as ‘Dumb Money’ were forced to realise that the internet was not some ‘fantasy land for nerds and weirdos’. And here we have Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), the founder of Melvin Capital Management that took a liking to short GameStop stocks; Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) and Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio), hedge fund managers who help out Melvin Capital; and Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota), founders of stock trading website Robinhood that infamously halted purchasing of GameStop stocks.

What impresses from the word go is how the doings of the underdogs, this invisible mob of Redditors, are shown through montages of newsreels, memes and TikToks, ironically making it a spoof of sorts but also capturing the utter shock with which the West realised that these ‘internet nerds and their memes’ matter in the modern world.

Dumb Money moves at breakneck speed, even making you wish the intermission was shorter. It also doesn’t suffer from any compulsion to expose some newfound shortcomings of the trade. Instead, it tells a straightforward David vs. Goliath story in a concise, simplified, and linear screenplay. In narrating the little guy’s fight against the gatekeeping of Wall Street, the film rightfully does away with all the mumbo-jumbo of retail trading.

There is never a boring moment and how even a Congressional hearing is staged makes you chuckle, hoot (how can you not for the iconic ‘I like the stock’ line?), and root for Gill and his pals. For instance, during the hearing that takes place over a video call, you also see a concerned Caroline watching her husband put up a brave fight — or “walking into a lightning with d**k out,” as he puts it — which when seen parallel to what happens in Griffin’s room paints a clear-cut picture on how the two sides function. Such moments, also like the one Jennifer shares at a gas station, humanise these characters, who are mere numbers on a chart for many, lending the right emotional gravitas to the film.

Gillespie does manage to get the best out of his cast and it won’t be an exaggeration to say that one could pay to watch the film again just for Pete Davidson’s absurd ripostes and one-liners as Keith’s no-good brother Kevin. Davidson’s terrific timing and delivery come dangerously close to drawing your attention away from the earnest Dano, who is well-grounded as the cat-tee-clad Messiah of r/WallStreetBets who turned his $50,000 to $50 million.

As someone at my screening pointed out, it’s fascinatingly ironic that a studio from an industry that goes to bed with Wall Street makes an uncompromising movie about an event that ridiculed the top 1%, which by itself is a move to capitalise on the event. That it’s also wonderfully written, staged and performed are all good “tendies” for a Friday evening.

Dumb Money is currently running in theatres

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