The Plot: 2020. While the pandemic rages on, isolating people in their homes, one man had the initiative to do something out of the (video game) box. Financial analyst and investor Keith Gill (Paul Dano) considers that the video game store GameStop is undervalued on the stock market. While Wall Street is betting that the company will fail and make money out of it, Keith wants to flip the script and make it a success. He does this by artificially increasing the price by recommending it to his legion of followers which includes his brother Kevin (Pete Davidson) who brands him a nerd and various people from all walks of life including a GameStop employee (Anthony Ramos). Meanwhile, Wall Street investor Gabe (Seth Rogen) starts to look worried as the GameStop stock gradually increases to unheard-of proportions…
The Verdict: Films about trading on the stock market have the potential to be as dry as dust and as unreachable as, well, making a billion dollars just like that. Filmmakers are clued into this and have found clever ways to work around the impenetrable nature and technical jargon of the secretive world of Wall Street. Adam McKay did this very successfully with The Big Short, adding great performances, knowing humour and, er, Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to make things sort-of clearer. Now it’s the turn of director Craig Gillespie as he recounts the events leading up to and after the GameStop ‘short squeeze’. This event saw average joe individual investors, derogatively labelled ‘DumbMoney‘ by Wall Street, who took on the might of the corporate world and turned it upside down in the process during a trading frenzy that even drew the attention of the White House. Let the games begin…
DumbMoney is a very high stakes game in itself, where the characters either win spectacularly or lose catastrophically – there is no moderate middle ground here. It’s based on the book The Antisocial Network by Ben Mezrich, drawn from real-life events that became more than just an American story – it became an international headline. Screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo approach this from a grunt’s eye-view of what’s happening rather than among the bulls and bears in the ivory tower of Wall Street. It’s not so much a David vs Goliath story but a story of David becoming Goliath through sheer willpower and risk-taking where buying is more important than selling. A lot of this takes place in basements, kitchens, living rooms, workplaces, student residences – everyday environments where the Wall Street investors themselves have to deal with after being cut off from the mothership during the pandemic.
The central character of Keith Gill is this movie’s equivalent of the Christian Bale character in The Big Short (briefly referenced) and it helps that Paul Dano plays him with both a nerdy sensibility and a roguish charm as a cat-loving family man. It’s an effortlessly cool performance which grounds the film in everyday reality even when this wild situation becomes unreal and drives the film forward as the stakes become ever higher. There’s also an impressive supporting cast of familiar faces dotted throughout the film, lending it an engaging ensemble effort while keeping all the characters and their personal financial situations in the loop. Gillespie is an experienced director when it comes to drawing the best out of his cast. He also has an innate ability to just grab a great story and milk it for all its worth but without it coming across as exploitative. There’s an admirable lightness-of-touch to his direction which makes light of this risky business, but also emphasises that it’s not all fun-and-games. There are real-world consequences for this populist movement.
DumbMoney is therefore a smart investment that is by turns hilarious and thought-provoking, packaged in an entertaining format that thankfully doesn’t overstay its welcome. Not a speck of dry dust either.
Rating: 4 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Dumb Money (USA / 15A / 104 mins)
In short: Smart investment
Directed by Craig Gillespie.
Starring Paul Dano, Shailene Woodley, Pete Davidson, Vincent D'Onofrio, Seth Rogen, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Ramos.