If we pretend the misbegotten films Locked Down and Songbird never existed, Craig Gillespie’s Dumb Money could reasonably be considered the first mainstream movie set during the pandemic. Set during the hardest months of the COVID-19 crisis, the film reminds us that one of the chapters in the long two years that were 2020 and 2021 involved a plethora of Redditors imposing the greatest heist against hedge-fund managers since the rapid rise and fall of MoviePass.
It was January 2021 when retail investors and members of the r/WallStreetBets subreddit banded together to invest in the nearly bankrupt video game chain GameStop. The move completely blindsided professional brokers and hedge-fund managers, who put their money on the company’s failure. The community effort to invest in GameStop eventually cost Melvin Capital — the firm who put GameStop in the short position — $6.8 billion, and would lead to hearings in the House Financial Service Committee in Washington D.C.
It all started when financial analyst and part-time YouTuber Keith Gill (Paul Dano) invested most of his assets ($53,000 to be exact) into GameStop. Gill, who was known as “Roaring Kitty” on YouTube, had faith in the company when others didn’t, and made videos from the basement of the humble Massachusetts home he shared with his (Shailene Woodley) and infant daughter. Gill’s videos consisted of him wearing gaudy tie-dyed cat shirts and headbands while rambling into his webcam about how GameStop was an undervalued stock.
Millions of people took his advice, and Gillespie’s film — co-written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo — portrays some of those who hung on his every word to buy and then hold their stocks. Those include Jennifer (America Ferrera), a struggling single mom who works as a nurse; Harmony and Riri (Talia Ryder and Mhya’la Herrold), a pair of college kids about to graduate submerged in student loan debt; and Marcus (Anthony Ramos), an employee of a moribund GameStop store located in a mall.
Blum and Angelo juggle all of these characters, and even show us the perspectives of folks like Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), one of many rich stiffs who bet on GameStop’s failure and got screwed when the complete opposite occurred. Gill’s videos and the snowball effect they create triggers an all-out Wall Street meltdown, where those for whom the game is rigged end up losing millions while the small-time “dumb money” retail investors find themselves sitting on hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a few months.
Dumb Money is very much of the same ilk as Adam McKay’s The Big Short and Vice. It adopts the snarky, meme-driven humor of the college-aged investors it portrays, sometimes to its detriment. The first 30 minutes of the film are all over the place. The film blasts hip-hop music in the form of Kendrick Lamar and Megan thee Stallion, which in theory sounds like a lot of fun, though it ultimately doesn’t add any kind of intriguing layer. It does more to distract than dazzle.
If you go into this with little-to-no knowledge of the story itself, it might take you until about 50 minutes in, when a Stephen Colbert news clip is played, to fully grasp the scope of what is happening. For as humorous as the screenplay can be, it does feel rather distracted in the first half.
Thankfully, Blum and Angelo find their footing in the back-half of the film, settling in enough to give each character’s story time to at least leave something of an impact, as some of their sagas end positively and others negatively. Paul Dano is the ideal anchor in which to ground the film, not solely because he plays the pivotal “cat,” but because his even-keel demeanor contrasts the film’s more bombastic edge.
Fortunately, Dumb Money doesn’t exist to be didactic. After all, the film is less about trying to outline the evils of capitalism and more about how average (mostly young) people were trying to tilt the seesaw in their favor for a change. If the story feels slightly incomplete, it might be due to the fact that the story is still new and the aftermath/legacy is still being written. What Blum, Angelo, and Gillespie (I, Tonya) were able to conjure up is entertaining, even if it’s something of a low yield investment overall.
NOTE: Dumb Money is now playing exclusively in theaters.
Starring: Paul Dano, America Ferrera, Seth Rogen, Pete Davison, Vincent D’Onofrio, Nick Offerman, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, Dane DeHaan, Talia Ryder, Myha’la Herrold, and Clancy Brown. Directed by: Craig Gillespie.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!