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Dumb Money

The GameStop stock phenomenon comes to the big screen in this entertaining and astute 'The Big Short'-style dramedy lead by Paul Dano.
By Sarah Ward
October 25, 2023
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By Sarah Ward
October 25, 2023
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It couldn't have been hard to cast Pete Davidson as a stoner in Dumb Money, but getting the Bupkis star playing a part that barely feels like a part on paper is perfect in this ripped-from-the-headlines film. He doesn't give the movie's top performance, which goes to lead Paul Dano (The Fabelmans), but he's satisfyingly great as the DoorDash driver who's often trolling his brother online and in-person. He's also an example in Cruella and I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie's entertaining feature of one of the ideas that this true tale heartily disproves. Viewers know what they're going to get from Davidson, and he delivers. Wall Street thought it knew what it was in for when small-time investors splashed their cash on stock for US video-game store chain GameStop, too, but the frenzy that resulted demonstrated otherwise.

It was in 2019 IRL when DeepFuckingValue aka Roaring Kitty aka Keith Gill first posted on subreddit r/wallstreetbets that he'd bought stock in GameStop, the Texas-born brand that had been struggling but he thought was undervalued. Dumb Money tells this story from Keith's digital enthusiasm through to the impact upon the financial markets, plus the worldwide attention that followed. In 2021, the GameStop situation wasn't just news. It was a phenomenon, and one of the great modern-day David-versus-Goliath scenarios. There's a reason that this recent chapter of history been turned into a movie, and not just because it's an easy candidate to try to emulate The Big Short: the big end of town kept pulling its usual strings, the 99 percent played their own game instead and the status quo was upended — temporarily.

Amid its array of memes, news clips and TikTok snippets, Dumb Money meets Keith in the pandemic, where empty commutes to his industry gig contrast with netizens hanging on his virtual chatter. As the hachimaki-wearing, beer-sipping Roaring Kitty, the Bostonian YouTuber streams from his basement, talking about how "Wall Street gets it wrong all the time" — and why GameSpot might be one of those instances. His wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley, Robots) is already supportive, and viewers and forum posters begin to agree. Enter a motley crew of characters all snapping up stock: Pittsburgh nurse and single mother Jenny (America Ferrera, Barbie) dreams of being able to comfortably take care of her children, Austin college students Riri (Myha'la Herrold, Black Mirror) and Harmony (Talia Ryder, Do Revenge) have tuition to pay, and Detroit GameStop worker Marcos (Anthony Ramos, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts) sports bigger ambitions than toeing the corporate line enforced by his by-the-book boss Brad (Dane DeHaan, Oppenheimer).

Keith, Jenny and company comprise Dumb Money's titular term: it's what amateur individual investors are dubbed. On the supposedly "smart money" side sit the wealthy who want to get even wealthier. Hedge fund cronies Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem), Steve Cohen (Vincent D'Onofrio, Godfather of Harlem) and Kenneth C Griffin (Nick Offerman, The Last of Us) are all spliced into the pacy narrative from luxurious abodes — Miami mansions, well-appointed offices and country clubs — while looking like money as well as living and breathing it. With GameStop, they're aiming to make more by betting the other way. They'll profit as shares fall, which Roaring Kitty, his acolytes and their efforts to drive up the price to cash in themselves threaten. Also in the slick-and-sweating camp are Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan, Sharper) and Baiju Bhatt (Rushi Kota, Never Have I Ever), creators of trading platform Robinhood, which is touted as a democratising advance and widely used by GameStop stock devotees, then shifts its allegiances.

Rogen, Stan and Australian filmmaker Gillespe collaborated on Pam & Tommy, which also took a slice of actuality, broke down the details, unpacked the chaos and served it up engagingly. It was an underdog tale as well — not by splitting its time between its eponymous celebrities and the folks who leaked their sex tape, but because Pamela Anderson's fight to be seen as more than a sex symbol beat at its centre. Here, the hierarchy is straightforward. There's no doubting who's battling and who already possesses the power, although an off-screen tidbit does cast a shadow over the anti-establishment push, emphasising that money talks no matter what. Among the film's executive producers are Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss, the investors famous for being portrayed by Armie Hammer in The Social Network, plus everything that movie covered about their involvement in Facebook's early days.

Penned by Orange Is the New Black alumni Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, adapting Ben Mezrich's 2021 book The Antisocial Network: The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees (the author's 2009 tome The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal was the basis for The Social Network), Dumb Money isn't the first time that the GameStop stock saga has reached screens. It also won't be the last. Two-part HBO documentary Gaming Wall Street arrived in 2022 with Succession's Kieran Culkin narrating, and doco film GameStop: Rise of the Players hit the same year. Reports have also swirled about a Netflix feature starring To All the Boys' Noah Centino and written by The Hurt Locker Oscar-winner Mark Boal, and another flick called To the Moon. Whatever else does follow, this version is clearly a Gillespe joint right down to the overt needle drops, which summed up Cruella in all the wrong ways — but style and substance find a better match here. Dumb Money keeps things snappy but never too sleek; it's lively and giddy but grounded; and it's about the rise to eat the rich, not just about rich who demand eating, even if reality's revolution hasn't been that ravenous.

The narrative journey is all rollercoaster, as is the stock journey — rises, falls, soaring and dipping included — and Dano's key performance straps in for it all. He's calm, earnest, determined, passionate and likeable, selling Keith's growing folk-hero status as well as the fact that he's an everyman galvanising ordinary people from his suburban home while trying to carve out a better future for his family. Dano is also excellent when dealing with Davidson as Keith's gleefully shit-stirring brother Kevin, who borrows his car without asking to make his deliveries and skims off the orders he's ferrying around. This pair constantly prove apt in the film's story in multiple ways, including by conveying eagerness for more yet not dutifully buying what capitalism is slinging. Everyone around Dano and Davidson hits their marks, albeit without as much room for depth afforded by the screenplay, but Dumb Money is all the more compelling — and right on the money — for never forgetting that this is a collective tale.

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