In the grand scheme of things, the biggest impact of the 2021 short squeeze of GameStop stock (GME) was that it made hedge funds and short sellers aware of the possibility of other similar events fueled by social media. For at least a brief, glimmering moment, retail traders were kings. Dumb Money smartly focuses its thematic eye on this us-versus-them through line, even if its narrative arc sometimes feels a bit cluttered.
Veteran director Craig Gillespie and writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo (adapting Ben Mezrich’s book The Antisocial Network) give us Keith Gill (Paul Dano) as a mostly chipper, yet somewhat emotionally scarred protagonist. Gill was the financial analyst and investor who sparked the trading frenzy in GME through his presence on Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit. He and his working-class New England family were grieving the loss of his sister in 2020 when his online proclamations and initial 2019 purchase of around $53,000 in call options on GME started to have significant market impact. He believed the stock to be undervalued, and his analysis convinced a large number of retail traders, many of whom used app-based brokerage services like Robinhood to invest. Early in 2021, Robinhood and their financiers, along with other brokerages, halted the buying of GME and other such social-media supported stocks such as AMC Theatres and BlackBerry Limited, reasoning that they did not have sufficient collateral to carry out their clients’ requests. This prompted accusations of market manipulation and led to the filings of dozens of class action lawsuits.
Dano is terrific as Gill. His penchant for patient, interior performance serves him well here, making him not only the narrative anchor, but the tonal anchor as well. There is so much going on around him in this film, and sometimes, a little too much. There’s probably around ten minutes of memes and internet comments sprinkled throughout the film, all used to illustrate the real online frenzy that occurred. We lose a lot of helpful technical details to comedic moments and montage-based tricks of editing. It’s not so much that any essential point is glossed over, but a more streamlined and/or more patient version of this film would give us more time to breathe and fully ingest information and emotional beats.
There are three sufficiently entertaining subplots involving everyday retail traders: one at a university centered on two GME-investing students, one involving a single mother looking for a leg up, and one involving an average GameStop employee. That third subplot is the best and funniest one, as clerk Marcus (Anthony Ramos) constantly gets lectured by Brad, his pathetic boss (Dane DeHaan). It also does a nice job of reiterating some of the film’s thematic material dealing with class, business, economics, and smart management (or lack thereof).
Of course, there are also the clear antagonists of this story: hedge fund company Citadel founder Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), investment firm Melvin Capital founder Gabriel Plotkin (Seth Rogen), and hedge fund manager and New York Mets owner Steven A. Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio). All three are alleged to be directly involved in Robinhood’s plan to unilaterally halt trading on particular stocks. The actors portraying them (along with Sebastian Stan as Robinhood founder Vladimir Tenev) are all very convincing and entertaining in their roles, but here too, the film moves a bit too fast and feels overstuffed.
Ultimately, Dumb Money absolutely has its heart in the right place. It correctly points out the greed that artificially trumps the potential impact of working-class investors. However, it goes down a few too many comedic rabbit holes to have the emotional impact it could have had. Again, I think Dano is excellent here, but the film often feels like it has very little time for its own main character. The thematic focus is right on the money (no pun intended), but the narrative focus needed a little more investment (pun intended). However, if the subject matter interests you, it’s absolutely a film worth seeing and putting intellectual stock in. | George Napper