- Dumb Money
- Directed by Craig Gillespie
- Written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, based on the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich
- Starring Paul Dano, Shailene Woodley and Seth Rogen
- Classification 14A; 104 minutes
- Opens in Toronto Sept. 22 before expanding across the country Sept. 29
The best joke in Dumb Money, the new comedy chronicling the “GameStonk” phenomenon that rocked Nasdaq in 2021, arrives at the film’s very end. That is when the name “Winklevoss” pops up during the closing credits, with the twin brothers Cameron and Tyler having executive-produced the movie. The fact that the blueblood siblings who played such a pivotal role in the mythos of contemporary finance-bro culture – not only because of their history with Facebook but also the crypto-currency craze – helped in any way make this David versus Goliath flick that has delusions of David Fincher-sized grandeur is accidentally, perfectly hilarious.
The actual, purposeful contents of director Craig Gillespie’s film? Like the stock market itself, there are peaks and valleys. Just don’t buy the dip.
Adapted from the book The Antisocial Network by journalist Ben Mezrich (whose own 2009 bestseller The Accidental Billionaires became the source material for Fincher’s The Social Network), Gillespie’s film uses a disparate array of characters – many of whom never interact with one another – to dissect a baffling chapter in Wall Street history. Specifically, the stock-market rise of GameStop, a chain of video-game stores whose fiscal performance was so poor that hedge-fund billionaires bet against its prospects, hoping to get rich off the company’s failure.
But the dastardly plans of the filthy are foiled by a group of amateur working-class investors, rallied by a self-styled market guru named Keith Gill (Paul Dano) who spreads his gospel via the online forum Reddit. Buying stock through the fledgling, user-friendly app Robinhood, Gill and his acolytes begin to pump up GameStop en masse as a sort of middle-finger gesture to the faceless Gordon Gekkos of the world. Suddenly, the shares are soaring, and the hedge-fund chiefs are squeezed to the point of financial ruin.
Mostly, Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo’s script pits the affable Gill – who films low-fi, meme-heavy investment-advice videos in his basement – against such real-life one-percenter investors as Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio), Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) and Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen). But the film also peppers in semi-fictionalized characters in a bid to make the battle more relatable. Too many characters, as it turns out, given that Gillespie quickly loses track of just how someone like Marcus (Anthony Ramos), a GameStop clerk who finds quick fortune in the scheme, or Jennifer (America Ferrera), a nurse who becomes hooked on Keith’s advice, fit into the larger picture.
When the film focuses on Gill’s scrappy antics – the low-level financial analyst goes by the Reddit username “Roaring Kitty” – and the mixed feelings he carries about his role in the online war, Dumb Money finds its beating, bleeding heart. The scenes featuring Gill and his endlessly supportive wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley) as they debate whether to cash in or keep their movement going contain small, sharp slices of graceful domesticity.
Even when the film wedges in some understandable, though unnecessary, comic relief to the Gill household in the form of Keith’s stoner brother Kevin (Pete Davidson, playing exactly the kind of Pete Davidson-y character he always does), there is a difficult discussion being conducted about aspirations and greed, luck and privilege. The middle-class tensions are impressively stretched to the brink by Dano and Woodley, two committed performers who grip onto the meaning behind the meme-ery.
The moment that the film leaves the Gill household, though, it drifts into easy, breezy whateverness. It is baffling, for example, as to what attracted Rogen to the role of Plotkin, who is either the dullest man ever to work in finance or simply a convenient sketch of a villain. The actor, who is reteaming with Gillespie after their frantic Hulu miniseries Pam & Tommy, is usually so skilled at layering in levels of sympathy to even the simplest-written of stooges. Yet there’s nothing for him to hold onto here, his endearing huh-huh-huh chuckle lost in a character who the film thinks is smart one moment, scum the next. The same empty fate kneecaps Rogen’s many co-stars, including his fellow Pam & Tommy refugee Sebastian Stan (playing the slimy co-head of Robinhood).
Like his films Cruella and I, Tonya, Gillespie cannot stop himself from dropping fat and easy needle-drops into Dumb Money whenever the film’s energy threatens to lag. But the director does manage an impressive job of recreating the disorienting headspace that comes with spending most of your free time arguing with strangers on Reddit.
Shot just 22 months after GameStonk started making headlines, there are many points in which the quick-stitched seams of Dumb Money betray its speedy turnaround. Several scenes are padded with archived cable-news reels recapping the market manoeuvring, while the film’s final leg contains enough footage from real-deal congressional hearings that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez deserves a co-starring credit.
While the film blessedly never dips into The Big Short-style finance-for-dummies lecturing, the script often assumes that audiences are as frequent visitors to Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum as Keith Gill. There is never a point in which I felt that Plotkin needed to break the fourth wall and explain what exactly it is that he does to make money – but a quick primer from one of the dozen characters on just what “shorting” a stock means would be helpful. Ultimately, I’m not even sure Gillespie understands. Buy low, sell dumb.