Dumb Money really wants to be David Fincher’s The Social Network for the hyper meme-ified, “extremely online” era. It’s a lofty goal, of which Craig Gillespie’s GameStop short squeeze chronicle frequently falls short. However, this is a metric occasionally worth setting aside in order to appreciate what it does manage to achieve: It’s an extremely funny watch, if little else.
Based on the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich (who also penned The Accidental Billionaires, the basis for Fincher’s film), Dumb Money is about that one bizarre GameStop story you might remember from January 2021. Almost a year into COVID lockdowns, numerous Redditors and casual investors pumped the stock price of failing gaming retail chain GameStop up to $500 a share, some 30 times its value a month prior, essentially spitting in the faces of predatory hedge fund investors whose profits were tied up in the company’s failure.
Those are the broad strokes, anyway. You’re unlikely to come away from Dumb Money having gained much insight into these events — beyond how the saga ended, if you don’t already know — and the movie is unlikely to be a culture-shifting juggernaut. In fact, its level of actual cultural engagement seems set to “bare minimum.” However, it’s bolstered by entertaining performances that, at least sometimes, make up for its numerous shortcomings elsewhere and ensure that it’s never boring, even when it tends to be slight.
Who and what is Dumb Money about?
Dumb Money takes the form of a sprawling ensemble piece, even though it probably shouldn’t. At a scant 104 minutes, it has just enough time to draw up a framework of how the GameStop short squeeze came to pass and some of the parties involved, though it rarely manages to give most characters their due. The one notable exception — the movie’s ostensible lead — is Keith Gill (Paul Dano), the real-life stock tips YouTuber who went by the online monikers “Roaring Kitty” and “Deep Fucking Value,” depending on the platform.
The film opens in January 2021, on the day the squeeze took off and became a major news item. Characters on both sides of the event to respond to headlines with shocked proclamations of “Holy fucking shit!” — Gillespie certainly creates anticipation, even if it doesn’t always pay off — before the movie flashes back by six months to establish its story. Those familiar with Gill’s cat-loving YouTube persona are likely to recognize his gaudy printed T-shirts and signature red headband, but the film also provides a peek behind the curtain, from his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley) and their infant daughter, to his deadbeat delivery driver brother, Kevin (Pete Davidson), to his working-class parents, Steve (Clancy Brown) and Elaine (Kate Burton), who remain none the wiser about online fame and the internet’s money-making potential.
Every character is introduced through on-screen text denoting their net worth. It’s a slick way to quickly establish which side of America’s massive income divide they’re part of, though few other scenes ever truly speak to this notion, beyond the film’s detailed production design, and the fancy parties thrown by out-of-touch Wall Street hedge fund managers like Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), Kenneth Griffin (Nick Offerman), and Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio) — the latter of whom inexplicably wanders his mansion with a pet pig. It’s perfect casting.
At the bottom rung of the film’s social ladder, you have indebted college queer couple Riri (Myha’la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder), floundering GameStop cashier Marcus (Anthony Ramos), and frustrated on-call nurse Jennifer (America Ferrera), all of whom take Gill’s advice and load up on GameStop shares. On paper, this doesn’t seem like too many supporting characters to flesh out, but the movie often veers between them with reckless abandon, seldom allowing for any one of them to have a complete story of their own.
Most characters in Dumb Money feel incomplete.
The way Gill’s story is rounded out makes for a fascinating dramedy of its own, between a recent tragedy that looms over his family dinners, and the eventual conundrum of whether to cash out when the stock price rises “to the moon” or whether to “HODL” (“hold” in the characters’ Reddit parlance) — a gamble for more profits. The existence of a dilemma isn’t enough; that it’s rooted in three-dimensional characters whose lives are funny, melancholy, and multifaceted imbues each decision with stakes, and that Gill’s scenes are all punctuated by the ridiculous bro-comedy of his brash stoner brother makes it all the more dynamic.
Unfortunately, the movie’s dramatic strengths largely end there. With the minor exception of Rogen’s arrogant but put-together Plotkin — whose home life we glimpse on occasion — few characters seem to exist outside of specific environments and repetitive conversations. Worse yet, the movie hints at incredibly intriguing elements of their psychology, before dropping each thread after little more than a passing mention of their motives and mindsets. They have neither inner nor outer lives.