The Movie Waffler New to VOD - DUMB MONEY | The Movie Waffler


Dramatisation of the infamous GameStop "short squeeze" of January 2021.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Craig Gillespie

Starring: Paul Dano, Sebastian Stan, Seth Rogen, Pete Davidson, Vincent D'Onofrio, America Ferrera, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Shailene Woodley, Dane DeHaan, Myha'la Herrold

Dumb Money poster

Dumb Money takes its title from a disparaging term Wall Street brokers apply to small time individual investors. In early 2021, during the height of the pandemic, a lot of dumb money suddenly turned into very smart money. Due to its selling of keyboards and mice, the floundering video game chain GameStop was considered an essential service and thus allowed to remain open while most retail stores were forced to close. Its stock should have risen, but the powers-that-be on Wall Street were counting on cashing in on the franchise's eventual failure. One man threw a significant spanner in the financial works however.

Keith Gill (Paul Dano) was an investment nerd who ran a YouTube channel under the name "Roaring Kitty" where he offered stock tips and cat memes to his modest but committed following. He encouraged his viewers to buy stocks in GameStop, which would increase their value. An app called RobinHood gave non-experts easy access to acquiring such stocks, and soon GameStop's stock was rising at a phenomenal rate. Of course, Wall Street didn't like this, and so underhanded action was taken.

Dumb Money review

In the hands of director Craig Gillespie and writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, the "GameStop short squeeze" as it came to be known is a fun tale of have-nots attempting to have a little more and the haves who stood in their way. Each time a character is introduced their current net worth is flashed up on screen. The first player we see is investment officer Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), whose staggering NW of $300 million is quickly dwarfed by hedge fund managers Steve Cohen (Vincent D'Onofrio) and Ken Griffin's (Nick Offerman) billions. At the other end of the scale are students Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha'la Herrold), who have a negative NW in the tens of thousands thanks to the US's notorious college fees; health worker Jennifer (America Ferrera); and Marcos (Anthony Ramos), a disgruntled GameStop employee. The latter group all buy into Gill's advice, and come to revere him like a cult leader when they see their shares rise.

Despite the advice from all corners to sell their shares before they drop, Gill and his devotees stand firm. "Hold" becomes the key word, fuelling online memes and making the likes of Plotkin, Cohen and Griffin sweat. Pressure is applied to RobinHood's founders Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota) to stop giving the plebs access to the stock.

Dumb Money review

When it comes to the stock market, and frankly anything involving numbers, I'm as dumb as they come. The Big Short might as well have been dubbed in Romanian for all the sense I could make of it, and even Margot Robbie in a bathtub couldn't clue me in. I expected to find Dumb Money similarly confounding but thanks to Gillespie's tabloid style, such worries proved unfounded. Gillespie and his writers lay everything out in simple terms without having to rely on gimmicks like bathing Aussie starlets. Perhaps its haves vs have-nots dynamic is a little simplistic, but it works nonetheless. We find ourselves rooting for Gill and his investors because who among us doesn't warm to the idea of Wall Street taking a punch in the gut? The film conveniently leaves out the investors who bought into this stock simply to get rich, instead giving a bunch of put-upon workers and students with noble intentions. The idea of holding is similarly portrayed as a battle cry against capitalism, when in reality I'm sure it was more likely a case of people getting increasingly greedy.

With its ensemble cast and pandemic background, Dumb Money is oddly like a lighter cousin of Steven Soderbergh's Contagion. There are scenes of deserted malls and lone masked riders on busses that wouldn't be out of place in Soderbergh's apocalyptic drama, and it's a stark reminder of what we all went through in that strange period.

But fear not, there's no misery here (well, except for some hedge funds), as Gillespie injects the sort of humour he brought to his detailing of the Tonya Harding scandal, I, Tonya. I have to admit his punchable face put me off Pete Davidson when he arrived on the scene (or maybe jealousy when he inexplicably pulled Kate Beckinsale) but I've since warmed to him and now find him a genuinely humorous presence. As Gill's stoner kid brother he gets most of the film's best lines and acts as something of a bong-toting Greek chorus, asking the sort of questions the audience is likely thinking. One of the movie's funniest scenes has a team of advisors attempt to make Plotkin seem like an everyman by hunting for a zoom call backdrop in his palatial home that doesn't expose his obscene wealth.

Dumb Money review

Plotkin and co. are never cheaply portrayed as mustache twirling villains, and in the case of Plotkin we feel some sympathy when we see the concern on the face of his wife (Olivia Thirlby). Speaking of wives, if Gill's real life wife was as supportive as the version played by Shailene Woodley here, she deserves sainthood. In stark contrast to the usual combative spouses in movies about misunderstood geniuses, Caroline Gill is 100% with her hubby, even when they have tens of millions that could be cashed out to instantly change their lives.

For a movie about stocks and shares, Dumb Money is more thrilling than it has any right to be. I do worry that it could ironically serve as free advertising for services like RobinHood, as it makes the process of buying and selling stocks seem genuinely exciting.

Dumb Money
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews