2023, R, 105 min. Directed by Craig Gillespie. Starring Paul Dano, America Ferrera, Pete Davidson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Nick Offerman, Shailene Woodley.
REVIEWED By Alejandra Martinez, Fri., Sept. 22, 2023
Everyone loves an underdog story. Dumb Money, the movie chronicling the GameStop short squeeze of 2021, goes to great lengths to emphasize this. The story is familiar to anyone who was chronically online at the time but it is worth rehashing here: a short squeeze of the GameStop stock (shortened to GME for the market) was initiated by the r/wallstreetbets subreddit, whose users believed the stock was undervalued. Among these users was Keith Gill (Dano), also known as “DeepFuckingValue” on Reddit and “Roaring Kitty” on Twitter and YouTube. Gill himself bought a large amount of GME stock and, in chronicling his investment, inspired others to do the same. Soon enough, average folks had taken control of GME’s stock, causing its value to rise (as well as their investments) and draining the pockets of the hedge funds and investors who had shorted (or undervalued) the stock.
Dumb Money boasts a great and committed cast led by Dano as Gill – soft-spoken in his daily interactions, but bullish when it comes to investing. There is also America Ferrera as Jenny, a struggling nurse who gets into the GME short squeeze and remains loyal, for better or worse. Pete Davidson plays Keith's brother, Kevin, a weird but fitting slacker foil to Dano’s more straitlaced investor. The rest of the cast is clearly having a good time while delivering number- or jargon-heavy exposition, adding a human dimension to otherwise dry information. However, great cast aside, Dumb Money can get bogged down by the storytelling choices it makes along the way.
Deciding how to depict the internet or other everyday technologies and how characters interact with it in film is a tricky thing. In this movie in particular, the internet is an integral part of the story, so in some ways it makes sense that Reddit memes and crass internet commentary would make their way onscreen. However, when characters are pulling out their phone to show someone else another “STONKS!!!” meme every other scene, you have a problem on your hands. When you showcase GIFs full-screen, meme’d and labeled to explain the situation with “Seven Nation Army” blaring over the soundtrack, you’ll lose people who aren’t stuck in internet humor that hasn’t moved past 2011.
If someone wants to see the memes, the GIFs, or even the TikToks created because of this event, they can search for them online. Here, they take up real estate in the film that could’ve been given to more messy and pressing matters that the film brushes over. Namely, Reddit’s more nasty, antisemitic, and generally hateful tendencies. There is one throwaway line about bad apples in the subreddit, but the film drops any complications after that – ensuring a clean, easy story about the little guy rising above.
Dumb Money is entertaining, even with its shortcomings. The cast is doing the best with what they have, although there is another thing that’s missing from the movie: anger. For all the talk of taking back money from the rich, standing up to the establishment, and the very real injustices of economic power imbalances, there’s surprisingly little fury on display here. There are, of course, standard depictions of economic frustrations, but the movie decides to focus on the hope and drive of the average Joe characters instead of the fury. Maybe Dumb Money’s storytelling would have been bolstered by having some bite instead of being all memes and bark.