Dumb Money, which made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, earns 3 stars (out of 4) from Us Weekly movie critic Mara Reinstein.
Close your eyes and flash all the way back to early 2021. Amid political upheaval and a pandemic (and, um, the buzz surrounding WandaVision), a cast of individual traders on Reddit started buying the GameStop stock in droves to squeeze seasoned investors out of money. The get-rich-quick gambit drew bold-faced headlines galore. Still, unless you were directly involved, it was more of a fascinating finance blip than crucial controversy with longterm impact.
Dumb Money, which focuses on the GameStop “short squeeze,” likely won’t cause major reverberations on a cinematic level, either. In the tech-business biopic subgenre, The Social Network and The Big Short remain the more sophisticated films. But in terms of riveting and wicked entertainment, this comedy can’t be undervalued. After all, crowd-pleasing takes on special meaning when the underdogs get to stick their collective middle finger to The Man.
The story is stranger than fiction — in a good way! Consider that the man behind the movement was a cat lover live-streaming from his basement in a quiet Boston town. Keith Gill (Paul Dano) is an unassuming financial analyst making decent money when he decides to sink $50,000 into GameStop. You know, the video game retailer quietly taking up space in suburban malls. He reveals his decision along with other financial insights on a Reddit thread under the moniker Roaring Kitty.
His knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm for his precious new stock spurs his mostly-broke fans to take the plunge and invest online as well. This group includes a Pittsburgh-based essential worker (America Ferrera), a pair of Texas college students freaking out over their debt (Myha’la Herrold, Talia Ryder) and a Detroit GameStop employee (Anthony Ramos). As the Davids start to yield control over the stock market, the hedge fund Goliaths (played by Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio and Nick Offerman) start to panic. So does the co-developer (Sebastian Stan) of the Robinhood trading app.
These lively characters, along with their titles and net worths, are introduced early on with a flourish. As in, Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s 2020 hit “WAP” blares over the opening! But because director Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) tries to toggle all their storylines in under two hours, Dumb Money at times feels like one long snappy montage set to pop music. That means some of the players — especially Rogen and Offerman — come off too one-note. There’s also an annoying TikTok-like visual element, as the screen is constantly filled with quick-cut archival cable news clips and money graphs and videos of people losing their minds over the ever-changing fluctuations.
It’s a bit exhausting. It’s also easy to understand why Gillespie chose this specific style over meaty substance. Deciphering the fast-paced financial world can be an arduous task and Margot Robbie can’t just once again explain the complex terms in a bubble bath like she did in The Big Short. Dumb Money dumbs down the key points in a way that’s accessible and user-friendly.
In the shrewdest move of all, Dano plays Keith as the ultimate working-class hero who’s open and eager to genuinely please. He and his wife (Shailene Woodley) aren’t obnoxious about their newfound mega-wealth; he and his brother (a well-cast Pete Davidson) bicker with love under every circumstance. Keith has a long-running inside joke to his followers about the chicken tenders he feeds his young son. He even fails to come off as a tech bro while testifying in front of Congress. Albeit on Zoom.
Did Keith also break the law by creating a sort-of illegal pyramid scheme? Perhaps. But his brand is the geeky everyman. And here, the geeky everyman wins. For Dumb Money is both a rousing comedy and an effective (and obviously timely) tale of outcasts who dared to challenge the status quo. Feel free to root for it.
Dumb Money opens in select theaters on September 15 and nationwide on September 29.