Somebody sensed that we needed a balance to the corporate “feel-good” stories released this year, such as Air and Tetris (Blackberry for a more even experience). As aspiring as it may be, where is the fun of rooting for the rich to get richer? It's almost a stroke of serendipity that a film like Dumb Money is coming out during a time when the labor movement (both in the entertainment industry and in a broader sense) has been the most robust it’s been in years.
Director Craig Gillespie’s feature peers into the 2021 GameStop short squeeze, keeping in mind that the audience might not know the ins and outs of the stock world. It sets the stage almost immediately – moving toward the end of the story, Melvin Capital Management executive Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) is in a sheer panic, realizing that his company has bled millions of dollars as his illustrious mansion in Miami is being constructed.
Dumb Money points out the heroes and villains of the story early – placing net worth on the screen to show how much the pay disparity is. Some people are obscenely wealthy and use the stock market to their advantage to keep that barrier in place. With every story of this temperature, there needs to be a hero we can identify with. That comes from Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a daily financial analyst and frequent runner.
He has a good feeling about Gamestop’s stock and has been tracking it for a while. Dawning a red headband, a kitty shirt, and a pitcher of beer, he’s known as Roaring Kitty and posts his finance sheets on the r/wallstreetbets Reddit thread. The thought of Gamestop being this Robin Hood hub is funny because if you’ve ever traded something at the store, it’s often felt like they are stealing from you. In this manner, Gillespie shows how this movement became 8 million strong and that a group of people can apply a cheat code to something often locked to them. It’s infectious, and how Dumb Money moves through characters is almost Social Network-esque in its camera methods down to William Bates’ score.
Dano brings a certain amount of measured charisma to Keith’s character. His wife, Caroline (Shailene Woodley), instills positivity whenever he starts to waver. Pete Davidson’s portrayal as Keith's brother, Kevin, is the more comedic foil as the Doordash driving (and often food order eating) loafer who makes fun of Keith every chance he gets. It all works from a close family standpoint, but where Dumb Money also shines is in its star-studded ensemble. Gillespie puts faces on the various citizens who buy into this mission.
Jennifer (America Ferrera) is a nurse and single mother who needs one big break to help her bank account in the negatives. Marcus (Anthony Ramos) works inside an actual Gamestop and is not a massive fan of his boss. Despite this, he dreams of making a way for his family. UT Austin college students and girlfriends Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold) have a ton of student loans and would love nothing more than to make a few billionaire pockets a little lighter.
When you see the stock rise, you feel the stakes of what even a morsel of good fortune would mean to this collection of people. As an extra layer, this story takes place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, where you can see the disparity in living situations. When someone like Jennifer has to work in a crowded hospital where many people are sick and dying, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) enjoys golf and round-the-clock service. Plotkin exhibits arrogance when $12 billion Steven Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio) warns him of what’s happening. It’s the same type of dismissiveness every day working people feel and is a palpable anchor the film leans into.
Given that this Gamestop story only happened two years ago, there might be a feeling of haste considering the short time frame Dumb Money was made. However, it’s well done to the point where you will actively root for the collective. It’s an impossible heist, especially when the Co-Founder of Robin Hood, Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan), actively takes orders from hedge funds to cut thousands of investors from their hard-earned money. Is the game rigged? Absolutely. But it’s great to see the little person figure out how to break the combination lock.