Whether you actually know or understand anything about the Gamestop stock craze that erupted out of nowhere and onto the financial pages, the battle lines are drawn clear in Dumb Money, a sort of new-gen version of The Big Short for Redditors. There are the Wall Street hedge fund blowholes who make money when the country is struggling, and thus they invest in companies they expect to fail. It’s called “shorting”, and when those stocks do fail they turn a massive profit. You’ve got Seth Rogen as Gabe Plotkin of Melvin Capital Management, Vincent D’Onofrio as Steve Cohen of Point72, and Nick Offerman’s scowl as the most Darth Vader of them all, Ken Griffin of Citadel LLC.
We hate them immediately. Gabe is throwing a massive poolside party at his palatial digs, whining to Steve over the phone that his tennis court isn’t being installed fast enough. Worse, this is all during the pandemic, and these guys don’t have a care in the damn world. Steve’s pig runs freely around his mansion like bacon isn’t actually a thing that exists.
Dumb Money is smartly packaged into a crowd-pleasing “us vs. them” story pitting the little guys against the Goliath of Wall Street fat cats. The avatar for our righteous anger is Keith Gill aka Roaring Kitty, a modest, dweeby financial analyst who pumps up his beloved Gamestop stock using Reddit and cheesy Youtube videos. You get the feeling he just loves the stock because he spent so much time in their stores buying video games, and that’s okay. It’s kind of endearing, really. With the support of his wife (Shailene Woodley) and constant heckling by his slacker bro Kevin (Pete Davidson), Keith rallies millions of blue collar retail investors to pump up Gamestop and stick it to The Man.
Unlike The Big Short, which infamously used the allure of Margot Robbie to break down the most eye-glazing financial terminology, Dumb Money skirts all of that. Instead, the focus is on a handful of individual people who become Gill’s investor foot soldiers. Unlike Ken Griffin whose net worth stands at approximately $36B, there’s university students and new couple Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold), whose net worth is in the negative due to student loan debt. Others we’re encouraged to root for are Jennifer (Barbie‘s America Ferrera), a nurse and single mom (using the handle StonkMom) whose kids really need braces; and Marcus (Anthony Ramos), a Gamestop employee with big dreams and an asshole boss.
Dumb Money isn’t especially funny, unless you get off on watching arrogant rich people squirm, which they do. Rogen’s Keith is the target for most of it. He’s the littlest guy on the totem pole and as his company loses billions, he practically starts swimming in flop sweat. Meanwhile, the bulk of the humor on the other side of the battlefield comes from Davidson’s Kevin, who drives DoorDash and eats his customer’s food without a care.
The Gamestop craze really took off in 2021 and Hollywood producers were racing to tell its story before their was a final act. Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo’s blistering script and Craig Gillespie’s swift direction, overstuffed with catchy Megan Thee Stallion needle drops, easily navigate the personal stories while keeping our eyes just as glued on the volatile stock market as the investors themselves. It’s one of the more successful tricks this film pulls off, getting us hooked on the economic roller coaster. We ride the ebbs and flows with them. And while it isn’t exactly cinematic to watch stock numbers go up and down, the performances surrounding it help. We’re right there with them, pissed at the many guardrails put in place to shield those with more money than God, while everyone else fights for scraps.
There’s also a really powerful pandemic story here, arguably one of the best because it isn’t shoved right into our face like so many Covid-era movies did. It’s telling how so few of the Wall Street guys actually wear masks. Meanwhile, Jennifer and Marcus are rarely seen without them, because they both work in what are deemed essential services. Yes, that’s right, Gamestop stores were kept open because they were essential. Just a funny little note that is definitely true. I ventured out into a Gamestop during the worst of it, myself. But that little factoid about Gamestop is also key to what passion for the stock. Not only were we dying for easy forms of entertainment, we were eager for the nostalgia of strip malls and retail stores, which had been devastated by the pandemic and have yet to truly recover.
Dumb Money doesn’t even attempt to be a full and fair representation of the facts, and that’s okay. There are already dozens of projects looking to tell this story from every possible angle, and eventually, there will be one that makes the Wall Street guys look like heroes or something. But Dumb Money is not that film. It has no fucks to give about that side of the story, really, and we get a more entertaining movie for it. There’s more profit to be earned in punching up than punching down.
Dumb Money opens in theaters on September 15th, expanding nationwide on September 29th.