Maybe a movie about how collective action by economically challenged folks sorta stuck it to “the Man” would feel a bit more refreshing if it wasn’t *zooms in* produced by Columbia and distributed by Sony?
For all its earnestness, and said earnestness does abound, Dumb Money is largely toothless. Its villains are a cavalcade of 1% punching bags, rich doofuses spewing grotesque observations after rolling silver spoons to the other sides of their mouths. Yet, writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo and director Craig Gillespie never take a real swing at them.
Oh, sure, “Wall Street” as a loose concept gets blasted, but every page of the script, every frame of the film, so clearly had a lawyer combing over things for even the smallest smudge of defamation’s fingerprints. The result is a quasi-clever recap of the “GameStop stock incident” with slightly more “WAP” samples than you’d imagine. An amiable cast generates goodwill that drives Dumb Money’s harmless thesis: Maybe poor people are good and rich people are bad? Maybe… Provided the legal team says okay.
What’s funny is that the events depicted largely hinge on leaping before legally looking. Keith Gill (Paul Dano), who goes by the name Roaring Kitty on Reddit and YouTube, tells the denizens of the internet that he is a fan of GameStop’s stock. This is during the height of the pandemic in summer 2020, back when “regular people” were weighing the risks of seeing grandma and rich people were grumpy because the numbers in their portfolios lost a digit. Keith’s goofy-ass endorsement got picked up on the WallStreetBets subreddit at the same time that hedge funds decided to “short” the GameStop stock.
If you don’t know what “shorting” a stock means, Dumb Money does a legitimately great job explaining it without lecturing the shit out of you like The Big Short did. Basically, it just means that wealthy chodes like Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogan), Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), and Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio) would make a b-load of money if GameStop stock took a dump. It didn’t. Instead, average Joes, Janes, and Julians bought loads more and drove the price up, up, up.
Jenny (America Ferrera), a nurse who went by StonkMom on the interweb, invested hard despite barely making enough to feed her kids. College students Riri (Myha’la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder) ignored six-figure student loan debts and snagged the stock. GameStop clerk Marcus Barcia (Anthony Ramos) loathed the middle management breathing down his neck every day but sunk his savings into his company’s future.
Meanwhile, Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota), the techdudebros who made Robin Hood, the commission-free app that “democratized” Wall Street trading, operated super-fascistically, which sounds like a new Mary Poppins song. As Keith’s wife, Caroline (Shailene Woodley), and dirtball brother, Kevin (Pete Davidson), questioned Keith on the family’s long-term plans, congress got involved. Why? Because when poor people win on the stock market while rich people lose, the game gets stopped immediately.
It’s impossible to operate in the real world right now, with union strikes popping off like fireworks in a frying pan, and not get swept up in a movie that thumbs the eyes of the elite. The problem is, we want it to dig its fingers in, scramble things up, and pull out whatever ocular remnants can be scraped away. Dumb Money is bound by being “based on” a true story, meaning no truly happy ending awaits. The only lesson seems to be “this sucks, right?” That is a truism long proven and repeated, to the point of insanity.
That isn’t to say Dumb Money is poorly made. Tame? Yes. Safe to the point of frustration? Sure. But Dano’s authenticity and the ensemble’s sincerity are endearing. The story is inherently interesting. At the time, details of what was happening were glossed over by a corporate-controlled media structure invested in making sure most Americans never remember the immediately obvious fact: There are more of “us” than there are of “them,” and with that comes a power we too rarely use.
Dumb Money works as a coda to remember what “really” happened, even if the events are fictionalized. That’s the best thing that the film does. We memory hole every significant social lesson into impenetrable mental bunkers. Here’s hoping that this big-screen recap that feels like a made-for-TV movie can at least register on enough radars to keep a small ember of collective recollection burning.
Grade = B+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Sarah G. Vincent at Cambridge Day says the film “is obfuscated by frenetic pacing, myriad screen shots of online exchanges exchanging and a healthy dose of trader speak mixed with a teaspoon of quotidian financial concern and a soupçon of pandemic grief.”
Lupe R Haas at CineMovie.tv says “The news implied the Reddit leader and his followers were in the wrong for holding the line against Wall Street. Wall Street investors were betting on GameStop’s fall, but Gill and his followers essentially saved the business and got rich in the process. Now that’s an American story.”
Jamie Broadnax at Black Girl Nerds says the movie “is filled with humor, at times makes you mad at privileged capitalism, and may even surprise you at how easy money flows through markets.”