Dumb Money thinks you’re stupid — the title might as well be a reference to anyone paying to see the film.
It’s a bummer, too. I had such high hopes! The GameStop saga, which is the basis for the movie, is genuinely bizarre, and anyone with a flair for the absurd would have a fantastic time with it. To recap: a bunch of Redditors (and others) bought the stock of a flailing retailer that was heavily shorted, sending it soaring — and burning the shorts in the process.
A financial Love Actually, minus the charm
Think about the story of Keith “Roaring Kitty / Deep Fucking Value” Gill for even a moment and you have one of the funniest possible superhero arcs of all time. By day, Gill is giving people decent, reasonable, sensible financial advice as the “director of education and wellness” at MassMutual; by night, he’s gambling wildly on GameStop as part of a genuinely deranged portfolio. (Gill himself told The Wall Street Journal that “he wasn’t a rabble-rouser out to take on the establishment, just someone who believes investors can find value in unloved stocks.”) This is anarchic and funny and weird — the kind of material I’d want Veep’s Armando Iannucci to take on.
Instead, we have a financial Love Actually, minus the charm and reinforcing one of the dumbest portrayals of the GameStonk debacle: like, the proles totally took down the hedge funds, maaaaan. Not only is it factually dishonest — the Financial Times got mad enough to do a full debunk, and The Wall Street Journal did its own mild-mannered fact-check, so I’m not going to bother — but a narrative failure as well.
Look, it’s really hard to write about the internet in a way that makes sense for movies because it’s boring to watch someone gaze into a computer. So Dumb Money has provided every main character with a partner (a wife, a girlfriend, a co-worker) so that character can deliver long, exposition-heavy monologues. For instance, Gill, played by an egregiously miscast Paul Dano, is out drinking with his buddy, and his main character trait is that he won’t spend $5 for a beer but will spend $50,0000 on a stock he thinks is a joke. Dano’s take on the everyman involves, mainly, making puppy dog eyes. If he has other expressive modes, they aren’t shown.
The problem here is that none of these characters really interact or even intersect. Gill doesn’t have a relationship with any of the other retail traders, really, except his brother Kevin (Pete Davidson), who logs onto his stream to troll him. His posts are mentioned by other characters, but this serves to dilute the weirdness of the r/WallStreetBets phenomenon; Gill was just one of many posters.
For a movie about taking down the rich, it’s fairly patronizing about everyone who isn’t
The disconnected nature of all the players means no one gets fully developed. We have a hardworking nurse and mother, Jenny (America Ferrera), who is basically a cartoon; a GameStop worker, Marcus (Anthony Ramos), who is basically a cartoon; a set of college girlfriends, who are used for exposition while one has her hand down the other’s pants; and Gill, a cartoon. All of these people are just hardworking, sympathetic members of the middle or lower class — and we know that because their net worth is projected onscreen. There are no real telling details, nothing that makes them specifically distinct, except that Jenny is trying to get her kids not to swear, and Marcus does a pretty good TikTok dance. For a movie about taking down the rich, it’s fairly patronizing about everyone who isn’t.
The writers might have had more time to create real characters if they’d spent less time on the Wall Street dudes Gabe Plotkin, Steve Cohen, and Ken Griffin, who exist only as the objects of schadenfreude. While Seth Rogen’s performance as Plotkin is a delight — he seems to have been spliced in from a substantially better movie — I’m not sure why he was necessary. If you’re trying to represent GameStop from the retail traders’ side, you only need to see Wall Street types from TV, the same way the Redditors do.
The only character in the entire movie who seems to understand the spirit of GameStop is Kevin Gill, who occasionally steals Keith’s car, eats food he’s hired to deliver, and generally functions as a force of anarchy. Pete Davidson easily steals the show — he’s a fully realized weirdo, not just an archetype of what Hollywood thinks is an average person. A better version of this movie would have featured more weirdos with specific personalities because that’s what normal people are like. Redditors, especially.
Like the characters, Dumb Money is vastly simplified — a David vs. Goliath story, one that doesn’t talk about the addictive nature of trading, the reality that retail traders often lose, or that rich people got richer as the result of the so-called “retail revolution.” Instead, we get some characters who are having a tough time. They buy GameStop shares. It gives them hope. They watch Roaring Kitty videos. They buy more shares. Then, there’s the famous run. Most characters sell. At the end of the movie, every retail trader but Jenny has profited.
The best joke is in the credits
That smooth-brained version doesn’t really present part of what we all saw happening at the time: an open pump-and-dump, a clear bubble. People were buying in not because they thought that GameStop would stay up forever but because they figured they could hand their shares off to someone else before they hit the peak. Sure, some hedgies got squeezed, but some retail traders wound up the greater fool for other retail traders — because, in reality, that’s how the stock market works. There were a lot more Jennys in the GameStonk event than retail winners.
That’s a narrative violation, though, and one Dumb Money isn’t interested in. There are a few good jokes and standout performances from Rogen and Davidson, but it’s hard to overcome such a lazy script. The best joke, though, is in the credits: when I saw that Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss were the executive producers, I laughed so hard I cried. The Winklevoss twins, famously victimized by their depiction of Armie Hammer in The Social Network, now run a cryptocurrency exchange aimed squarely at retail traders called Gemini and make money off your trading fees.
This movie is about the small triumph of the little guys pulling one over on the rich, which is not actually how things happened. It is, however, financed by the wealthy, people like the Winklevoss twins, who benefit from letting the average Joe think beating the house is possible. Dumb Money lets you know who has the last laugh — but only if you stay for the credits.