When it comes to stocks, hedge funds, short squeezes, or anything business-related, I tend to zone out. Finance films like Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street or Adam McKay’s The Big Short were lost on me. I never thought the world of finance could be anything but a bedtime story to me.
However, Craig Gillespie’s new film might have changed my mind.
Australian producer and director Craig Gillespie — known for directing movies like I, Tonya and Cruella — premiered Dumb Money at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. Based on the viral GameStop short squeeze controversy in January 2021, the film follows the lives of several characters: particularly Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a financial analyst and a cat-loving internet personality — posting under the name of “Roaring Kitty” on YouTube and “DeepFuckingValue” on Reddit — who inspired the rise of GameStop stock prices, and Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), the founder of the hedge fund Melvin Capital who tries his best to get the GameStop stocks to go down.
I only decided to watch Dumb Money because Pete Davidson — who plays Kevin, Keith’s brother — was in the film, but it turned out to be an entertaining underdog story about the rigged stock market. The film begins by introducing the characters involved in the GameStop fiasco with their name and net worth, ranging from billions of dollars to only owed debt. Not only was this helpful in keeping track of the wide cast of characters, but it also made me immediately empathize with the characters whose net worth was in the negatives, including Keith and his family.
Since the film was set during the pandemic, the inclusion of face masks also emphasized the divide between the upper-class hedge fund managers and the working-class stock trading amateurs, with the former not wearing any masks at all and the latter wearing them throughout the movie.
Dumb Money did not fill its dialogue with confusing financial jargon. Instead, the film’s characters spoked about the financial world in an accessible way. In one scene, Jenny (America Ferrera), a working class woman, explained what ‘shorting’ a stock meant to a coworker — and we learned along with her. Shorting means that the hedge funds had been borrowing shares and selling them at a lower price to decline the company’s value. The hedge funds benefit from the shorting since they can buy the same stock at a lower price and keep what is left from their sale. This is what fuelled the tensions between the hedge funds and the plebian investors of ‘Roaring Kitty.’
The film also featured some real-life documentary elements, such as TikToks reacting to the GameStop frenzy and recorded congressional hearings. The script was casual and humorous yet informative, a feat I have never seen in other business films.
What initially started as a meme on the subreddit /wallstreetbets turned into a serious gamble. The film dives deeper into the lives of the ordinary people who followed Keith’s financial advice and bought GameStop stocks, from college students such as Harmony Williams (Talia Ryder) to essential workers such as Jenny. They all had one thing in common: having large debts to pay. The stock market was a risky way to pay them off. Many banked their precarious financial lives on the success of dorky underdog Keith in his battle against the Wall Street elite, making Dumb Money a fascinating story.
The major Hollywood cast brought the GameStop saga to life. Dano’s portrayal of Keith was accurate, from his mannerisms in his YouTube videos to his congressional testimony, and his chemistry with Shailene Woodley — who plays Caroline Gill, Keith’s wife — was very sweet. Seth Rogen made me hate and love him simultaneously, while Sebastian Stan played Vlad Tenev, CEO of Robinhood, as an entertaining narcissistic himbo. Out of all the supporting characters, America Ferrera was the one who captivated my attention the most. She delivered her performance with wit and sincerity as an essential worker and a single mother striving to make ends meet.
Dumb Money shows how much power the supposedly ‘dumb’ ordinary people can have, to the point where stocks can skyrocket because of user discussions on platforms like Reddit. The movie’s comedic tone demonstrated how precarious and ridiculous the stock market truly is, with the lives of thousands riding on the betting of a few major players. You don’t have to go to business school to understand that the system is rigged; all it takes is just a click on your phone.