‘Dumb Money’ is a social media-age Robin Hood tale
Filmmaker Craig Gillespie’s finance comedy tells the real-life story of 2021’s viral GameStop vs Wall Street saga in a way that’s actually digestible, says Hanna Flint
Saturday 23 September 2023 By Hanna Flint
The most I knew about the GameStop short squeeze of January 2021 was that it was a trending topic on Twitter that I hadn’t taken much interest in. Now, after watching Dumb Money, the affable finance comedy from I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie, I’m making diamond shapes with my hand and adding ‘HODL’ to my lexicon.
It’s a true testament to screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo that they managed to condense the specificity of this financial saga into a coherent narrative for a laywoman like me to comprehend. But as former Wall Street Journal reporters that shouldn't be a surprise. They’re no strangers to making business stories digestible for the average reader, and with this particular real-life tale they had the benefit of it fitting the familiar beats of the David vs Goliath parable or, more relevantly, Robin Hood vs Sheriff of Nottingham as small-time private retail investors stood up against the manipulative practices of big-time billionaires.
The Robin of this piece is Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a run-of-the-mill financial analyst from Massachusetts who moonlights as an investment vlogger on Reddit and YouTube. He goes by Roaring Kitty or DeepF**kingValue, depending on the social media platform, and is what Wall Street types call ‘dumb money’; a derogatory label for individual traders without institutional backing. Keith might have an affinity for cats, a red headband and the energy of ‘Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums’, but he is anything but dumb. An introductory scene where he catches up with his big-talking Wall Street school friend Briggsy (Deniz Akdeniz) over a beer – he adamantly chooses a Hamm’s, not the more expensive Heineken – shows that he’s intelligent, sincere and knows the value of the dollar.
Despite Briggsy delivering the stale warning to never bet against Wall Street, Gill has chosen to bullishly invest he and his wife Caroline’s (Shailene Woodley) life savings into GameStop, the video game and tech retailer that managed to stay afloat during the pandemic because they sold computer mouses – considered an essential item. He’s been a long-time fan of the store and believes Wall Street has undervalued it for some time. So, in various posts, he tells his steadily growing followers, ‘I just like the stock’, and they begin investing too, driving the price up slowly but surely.
When Wall Street Goliath Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) learns of the rallying behind GameStop shares, he decides to spitefully bet against them by shorting a fair number of stocks. He wants to put these normie traders in their place, but soon finds out that the growing collective, united behind Gill and a Reddit page called r/WallStreetBets, weren’t just investing for a profit. They were investing in a class warfare movement to squeeze Plotkin and the financial elite.
Sharply edited between fictionalised characters, real-life Wall Street players and a heck of a lot of archive footage from TikTok and news broadcasts, Gillespie entertainingly showcases the vibrant, electrifying landscape where this fight took place. The film grounds the audience in the grassroot desires fuelling these novice traders’ steadfast resolve; from America Ferrera’s Pittsburgh nurse and single mother trying to pay off her mortgage to college student Harmony whose hardworking dad was ruined by the 2008 financial crisis, leaving her to foot the bill of her $140,000 of student debt.
Then there’s Marcus (Anthony Ramos), an employee of GameStop condescended to by his anal boss (where have you been hiding, Dane DeHaan?), but hoping to one day buy his folks a home. With so many characters to contend with, the film doesn't quite probe as deep as it could into the personal lives of its cast, but props to Dano for never playing Keith for a fool despite his earnestly nerdy persona. He enlivens the unassuming protagonist with sweetness, sadness in melancholic moments and heartening conviction when the going gets tough.
As Keith’s brother Kevin, Pete Davidson offers the brand of arrested development humour we’re used to seeing from an early Seth Rogen film, while Rogen himself successfully plays against type as the entitled investment banker who underestimated the wrong underdog. Not quite sure what Sebastian Stan was going for with Vladimir Tenev, the cofounder of fintech platform Robinhood, but in a sea of mostly straight, grounded characters, his somewhat eccentric crypto-bro added a little quirky flair to what is a pretty sharp, often moving examination of how collective action can disrupt the economic establishment. In the words of GameStop, ‘power to the players’ – Dumb Money is a game worth playing.
See our screenings page to find out where you can watch Dumb Money at our UK Houses.