The always whip-fast and sometimes whip-smart finance comedy Dumb Money opens with a definition of its title: a term for what Wall Street investors call amateur day traders looking to get a piece of the action. It functions as a cheeky biopic of very recent history, when individual “retail investors” took arms against the hedge funders who claimed to know the market better than everyday people. Based on The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, the author whose The Accidental Billionaires served as the basis for David Fincher’s The Social Network, this alt-finance David and Goliath story cuts corners to maintain its nimble pace at the expense of its characters. But in their tightly-allotted screen time, every member of the impressive ensemble cast cashes in with moments of wit and humanity that pay dividends.
It’s the summer of 2020 and YouTuber Keith Gill (Paul Dano) has a bit of a wild idea. As his social media persona Roaring Kitty, he tells his fanbase he’s invested over $50,000 of his personal savings in video game retailer GameStop, which was trading for about $3 a share at the time. Thanks to the hive mind of the subreddit r/WallStreetBets, users from all walks of life, like college students Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold) to nurse Jennifer (America Ferrera) and store clerk Marcus (Anthony Ramos), begin to invest. Soon enough, the phenomenon of the “meme stock” is born, to the chagrin of hedge fund managers like Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), who have effectively bet against GameStop. The short squeeze triggers a congressional hearing that also implicates Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan), the mind behind the brokerage app that made the tsunami of trading possible.
The reasonable question to ask going into Dumb Money is “how much do I need to know about investing to keep up with this movie?” While director Craig Gillespie won’t expect you to know the intricacies of the stock market or the purview of the House Banking Committee, it would help going in to know how apps like Reddit and Robinhood generally work. Thankfully, Gillespie doesn’t resort to the glib fourth-wall breaks that plagued The Big Short and his previous biopic I, Tonya. He trusts scribes Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo to lay out what we need to know on the financial side and have the interpersonal conflicts fill in the gaps. The script also throws out fun tidbits like the fact that GameStop was able to be deemed an “essential business” during the covid pandemic simply because they sell computer mice.
Understandably, the easiest way into this story is through Gill and Dano continues a strong streak of lived-in and accessible performances that shed the self-conscious insularity of his earlier work. While the movie seems to sell Gill short in terms of his real-life sound financial analysis, instead portraying him as more of a cat-crazy goofball, Dano imbues the character with a spirited underdog quality that makes him difficult to root against. Pete Davidson also serves as a fun comic foil to Keith as his slacker brother Kevin, who teases him both in real life and behind an internet cipher, all while borrowing his car without asking. When Keith sets Kevin straight on the difference between Jimmy Buffett and Warren Buffett, Kevin retorts, “see, you’re neither of the Buffetts!”
In addition to the The Accidental Billionaires connection, Dumb Money aims to be the rabble-rousing younger brother to The Social Network in several other ways. Its brisk pace across numerous players and locations is assured by editor Kirk Baxter, who won an Oscar with Angus Wall for assembling David Fincher’s 2010 masterpiece. The misguided music score by Will Bates tries desperately to mimic the nervy propulsion behind Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s brilliant music for that same movie. But of course, both films are telling true stories based around technology that were turned around into the cinematic realm quite quickly; The Antisocial Network is just barely two years old and we already have a movie based on it. Dumb Money may be short-sighted in its summation of the real-life events but it’s a flashy and fun way into the rapidly-changing world of DIY investing.
Score – 3/5
More movies coming this weekend:
Playing only in theaters is Expend4bles, an action sequel starring Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone continuing the adventures of a band of mercenaries who have been tasked with a mission to stop a terrorist organization that aims to ignite a conflict between Russia and the U.S.
Also playing exclusively in theaters is It Lives Inside, a supernatural horror movie starring Megan Suri and Neeru Bajwa about a teenager who has a falling out with her former best friend and, in the process, unwittingly releases a demonic entity that grows stronger by feeding on her loneliness.
Streaming on Hulu is No One Will Save You, a sci-fi thriller starring Kaitlyn Dever and Dari Lynn Griffin following an exiled anxiety-ridden homebody as she battles an alien who’s found its way into her home.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup