Dumb Money – movie review

Australian director Craig Gillespie continues his successful foray into American film with Dumb Money. The film showcases Gillespie’s fast-paced directorial style in a David vs Goliath story that replaces slingshots with sub-Reddits.

For whatever reason, Gillespie seems to be attracted to stories that say something about America and its people. That was certainly the case with his most high-profile film to date, I, Tonya. Dumb Money also has plenty to say about America – particularly in the area of wealth disparity. But its rather scattergun structure means it sometimes works against itself.

Dumb Money is about GameStop, a company that hit the headlines in January 2021. The gaming retailer trades in Australia under the EB Games banner. If you were paying attention (I know, there was a lot going on at that time), you might recall that the company’s share price skyrocketed, largely on the back of small investors (the “”dumb money” of the title) propping up its value. This grassroots movement grew in reaction to Wall Street hedge funds trying to short the stock. Although the film doesn’t explain it all that clearly, shorting is essentially where investors bet a company’s share price will fall. But if the price keeps going up, the short will fail and the attempted “shorters” will lose money.

The catalyst for the small-investor revolt is mild-mannered Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a suburban dad with some financial experience. He moonlights online discussing stock prices using the name Roaring Kitty. Via Reddit and YouTube, he espouses his firm view that GameStop is under-valued. So much so, he’s invested all his savings into the company, placing his young family at some risk. But his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley) supports him. When Keith learns that Wall Street hedge funds – led by Melvin Capital Management boss Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) – are trying to short the stock, he uses his social media platform to rally supporters for a “short squeeze” to drive the price up. Soon, much to Plotkin’s surprise and chagrin, GameStop stock is trading at record highs. But the playing field is definitely not level. Shadowy forces are ranged against Keith – forces that will not tolerate interference in their business.

While the film largely concentrates on Keith, it also follows some regular punters who take Keith’s advice – Jenny (America Ferrera), a nurse; GameStop store clerk Marcus (Anthony Ramos); and college students Riri (Myha’la) and Harmony (Talia Ryder). Their fortunes highlight the ripple effects of Keith’s tactics.

Dumb Money treads a similar path to other recent financially-themed cinema, including Moneyball, The Big Short (of course) and 99 Homes. Gillespie plays it smart by not getting bogged down in the details of the deal. His decision to follow the effects of what happened through the people involved is far more engaging than numbers ticking by on a screen. His screenwriters, Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo (who adapt Ben Mezrich’s book, The Antisocial Network), have crafted a clever script with lots of humour. This allows the film to zip along, propelled by a hip-hop heavy score from Will Bates. At times though, it loses its way somewhat, with some repetitive scenes that don’t really drive the narrative forward. I also got a bit lost trying to keep track of the many characters who drift in and out of the narrative.

Paul Dano (The Fablemans) is cast as a kind of bland character surrounded by much more colourful ones. But despite being dealt a bit of a dud hand there, he still manages to carry the film through sheer underdog spirit. Shailene Woodley (The Mauritanian) is similarly undersold as Keith’s dutiful wife. Seth Rogen (Joy Ride) has a much stronger role as the spiralling Plotkin and makes the most of it. America Ferrera (Barbie) is also good as Jenny, probably the most relatable of the side characters. Look out too for a barely recognisable Vincent D’Onofrio and a very recognisable Nick Offerman as Wall Street types. But – and I didn’t expect to be saying this – a highlight of the film is Pete Davidson’s (Fast X) funny and warm performance as Keith’s brother Kevin.

Dumb Money isn’t a grand film dissecting the American Dream (for that, see There Will Be Blood). It is however a really enjoyable film about little guys sticking it to the big guys. So while it might not be the searing critique of late-stage capitalism some might be looking for, it’s certainly a film worth catching.

David Edwards

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