“Dumb Money” takes us back to a time in American history, the year 2020, when Reddit and YouTube semi-famous Keith Gill soared poor little GameStop shares to incredible heights.
He did this from his basement in Brockton, Massachusetts. Played with easy and engaging direction by Paul Dano, Gill has garnered legions of viral fans who have traveled to Oz. They shared fond memories of hanging out at GameStop when they were younger, whether it was just before COVID or years ago. Some acted on the stock clue because Gill seemed real, perhaps smart, and certainly vulnerable — her sister had recently died.
Oh David; The Goliaths in this saga are the hedge fund giants who planned the short-selling destruction of GameStop’s obsolete brick-and-mortar business as a video game retailer. This is “Dumb Money” in a nutshell. There isn’t a movie here that doesn’t pay dividends in watching Gill and a few other representative “dumb money” make small bucks while Melvin Capital founder Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and Citadel’s Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) lose billions of dollars. For these men and their vehicles, failure is an occasional occurrence.
We meet other, more Earth-bound characters in the fruitful rotation. There’s Keith’s wife, Caroline (Shailene Woodley), the sounding board and written conscience. Anthony Ramos plays Marcus, a GameStop mall employee who, with his own courage, decides to direct his life savings to GameStop, just like working-class nurse Jenny (America Ferrara) from Pittsburgh. One of these two characters will be successful. The other one doesn’t do this. When the stock becomes too big to succeed without a hitch, the timing for redemption becomes extraordinarily slippery.
“Dumb Money” script by Rebecca Angelo and Lauren Schuker Blum knows what it is doing. He is driven by the easy thrill and reliable thrill of betting big and winning. Less convincingly, I think, it is also driven by a working-class victorious rebuke of the arrogant 0.1 percent.
Like “The Big Short,” “Dumb Money” sexualizes money talk wherever possible. At one point, two of the script’s casually obsessed GameStop investors, a pair of college students from Austin, Texas, played by Myha’la Herrold and Talia Ryder, are discussing the stock’s prospects when one of them slips under his girlfriend’s pants. to be. This is a variation on Margot Robbie’s financial concepts bubble bath seminar in “The Big Short.”
This movie turned laid-back cynicism into Oscar-bait rocket fuel and eliminated any financial turmoil. In “Dumb Money,” the jokes and details feel more of a piece and are better embedded in what is actually going on. The film also knows when to tone down its instinct for wisdom. Struggling with six-figure student loans, Ryder’s character relates the story of how his father’s company (Shopko, which went bankrupt in 2019) was owned by hedge funds, and, in his own words, bitterly remarks that “the vampire sucked up all the money.” BT.” As in the line from “Citizen Kane”: “Making a lot of money is no cheat; If all you want is to make a lot of money.” “Dumb Money” also jokes that every time Ken Griffin is mentioned, a new person mutters the same curse word.
The film is adapted from Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction account “The Antisocial Network”; From my financially unsophisticated perspective, the screenwriters do a masterful job of instantly explaining the meaning of short squeezes and the like. It’s fun while it lasts. And then? Then, when the 100 minutes are over, you take a very small amount of “Dumb Money” with you.
There are times when director Craig Gillespie (“I, Tonya”) advocates for working-class solidarity in ways that seem mundane, mundane, and undeserved. It will sound different to different people, of course, but this strikes me as a masterful waxwork—a remarkable, real-life tale of Wall Street-shaking luck, nothing more, nothing less. If the same characters sat down at the same craps table in Vegas and went on a collective winning streak, would that be a victory over The Man? Or at least home? Or is it just a lucky break for a lucky few?
Movies like this, be it David vs. Whether Goliath’s capitalist dunks or semi-true stories of wildly successful product launches (“Air,” “Flamin’ Hot”), they have a way of quickly diluting and melting. This is true even of the better ones like “Dumb Money”. Maybe because money isn’t the real issue here. If we can’t get a vivid, complex sense of the people affected by this, then we, the audience, are short-selling.
The actors in Gillespie’s film are wonderful from head to toe. These include Pete Davidson (as Gill’s stoner brother), Kate Burton and Clancy Brown (as their parents, not quite sure how and why their son has become a new millionaire), and the always great Vincent D’Onofrio (as Steve). Cohen, the king of the film’s hedge fund cast). “Dumb Money” operates with a tone and tempo as sure as Gill’s belief in investment opportunities that have sentimental value. I just love the stock He continues to say the same thing that millions of voters say about their preferred candidate every four years. And if there’s anything rarer than a movie about money that really makes us think, it’s a movie about politics that makes us feel like there’s something beyond money and luck.
“Dumb Money” – 3 stars (out of 4)
MPA rating: R (for explicit language, sexual material and drug use)
Running time: 1:44
How to watch: Premieres in theaters Thurs. September 14
Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.