Dumb Money

  • 30 Sep - 06 Oct, 2023
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

"Dumb Money" calls for a little extra effort, the kind that might typically involve a distraction-free Wikipedia reading session, but it presents this complexity within an appealingly accessible package. (Adam McKay's "The Big Short" famously used Margot Robbie in a bathtub to explain intricate financial terminology.) By telling the story as an ensemble piece, rather than focusing solely on characters already well-versed in the intricacies of the stock market, screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo ingeniously find ways to translate it for the average viewer.

The film introduces us to the key players, such as Keith Gill (Paul Dano), who kickstarted the GameStop frenzy using Reddit and YouTube, supported by his equally committed wife (Shailene Woodley). Then there are the Wall Street professionals (Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Nick Offerman) who initially dismissed the phenomenon but later faced financial losses. The tech-savvy individuals (Sebastian Stan and Rushi Kota) who facilitated easy access to stocks also come into focus. Additionally, we meet various people who followed Keith's advice, from a GameStop store employee (Anthony Ramos) to a single mother working as a nurse (America Ferrera) to a pair of students burdened with ever-increasing loans (Myha’la Herrold and Talia Ryder).

While the ensemble may seem perilously close to being overstuffed, a controlled and nimble script justifies the large cast. Each character's storyline allows the film to swiftly shift between the anger, excitement, disbelief, and fear that permeated from conference rooms to dormitories during that period. This was, and still is, a time of widespread disillusionment with the wealthy and the systems that shielded them. Without heavy-handedness, the film illustrates how the loss of lives, jobs, and freedom triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a perfect storm. The sudden fascination with the GameStop brand was rooted in nostalgia for the days of brick-and-mortar stores and malls, both further ravaged by the pandemic. It's easy to see how it became a symbol for many at that time.

Last year's slew of "eat the rich" movies, from "The Menu" to "Triangle of Sadness" to "Glass Onion," often presented a limited view of class politics (people with money = bad). While "Dumb Money" still maintains a fairly broad perspective (a bit more character depth wouldn't have hurt), it offers something more constructive – a stirring David vs. Goliath battle that's hard not to become invested in.

The world "Dumb Money" invites us into can be obnoxiously off-putting, filled with cat memes and bewildering jargon. However, director Craig Gillespie does a commendable job of simplifying it without censorship. The film shows both the offensive language commonly used by users and acknowledges how anti-capitalist rhetoric sometimes veers into anti-Semitic attacks. It's a rare film about digital culture that feels well-balanced, accessible to both those immersed in it and those blissfully unaware.

Gillespie, known for his recent pop-culture history retellings from "I, Tonya" to "Pam & Tommy" to "Mike," clearly takes inspiration from the influential 2010 drama "The Social Network" (even emulating a sub-Ross and Reznor score). While this approach tempers some of his more audacious tendencies, such as an overreliance on needle drops, it also reminds us that he's no David Fincher, and Schuker Blum and Angelo, as clever as their dialogue may be, are no Sorkin. "Dumb Money" is a more disposable film – quick and entertaining but not as impactful. It's something to cheer for in the moment but not a movie to ponder deeply once the cheers have faded away.