(The 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) runs September 7-17 and HtN has tons of coverage coming your way! Check out Chris Reed’s movie review of Dumb Money. Seen it? Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in late 2020 and into 2021, a group of what are known as “retail investors” became rather passionate about buying stock in the mall-based video-gaming chain GameStop. At the same time, Melvin Capital, a major hedge fund, was shorting the same stock. As more and more of the small-time buyers acquired GameStop shares, the stock price went up, threatening to bankrupt the hedge fund. In this real-world scenario, David was about to kill Goliath.
This is the story told by director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) in Dumb Money, working off a script by Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum, based on the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, itself a nonfiction account of the actual events. The title refers to how institutional investors call the retail ones. At the center of the maelstrom is Keith Gill (Paul Dano, The Fabelmans), aka user DeepFuckingValue (DFV) on Reddit and Roaring Kitty on YouTube. An analyst at MassMutual, he lets off steam offering investing advice via his video posts and the Reddit discussion thread WallStreetBets.
Surprisingly, his followers—many of whom are just as mocking as respectful—begin to listen when Keith says he likes the GameStop stock, and join him in buying shares. They do so using the Robinhood investment app, ostensibly designed, as the name indicates, to help the little guy easily partake of the capitalist treasures normally reserved for the rich. By the end of the tale, both that expectation, as well as everything else, will be turned on its head.
Gillespie, as we have seen him ably do before, mixes serious issues into the frequently fast-paced comedy of the affair. So often, the societal system of rules and regulations favor the well-connected, leaving the bulk of the population with just crumbs to eat. Here, whatever the strangeness of picking GameStop as the vehicle, there’s an opportunity for the have-nots to get a chance to have, all the while sticking it to the fat cats. That revolution (of a sort) may not have been the original goal, but it sure is a sweet add-on.
Beyond Dano, the film features a winning ensemble to portray the various actors in the saga. Seth Rogen (also The Fabelmans) plays Gabe Plotkin, Melvin Capital’s CEO. There’s also Vincent D’Onofrio (The Unforgivable), Pete Davidson (Big Time Adolescence), America Ferrera (Barbie), Myha’la Herrold (Bodies Bodies Bodies), Nick Offerman (Hearts Beat Loud), Anthony Ramos (In the Heights), Talia Ryder (Never Rarely Sometimes Always), Sebastian Stan (Fresh), and Shailene Woodley (Endings, Beginnings). And though Woodley’s role is distressingly one-dimensional—she’s nothing beyond a supportive spouse—there are plenty of fun turns from the rest.
Overall, Dumb Money is good fun, frequently smart enough to make sharp points about our universe, if never exceptional. Many of the targets are too obvious to surprise, yet there is still a feel-good, grab-the-pitchforks quality to the whole. The fact that the majority of the movie’s villains got away without too much distress is just the way it goes. At least they had a proper scare.
– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)
2023 Toronto International Film Festival; Craig Gillespie; Dumb Money movie review