EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like Dumb Money might not exist.
Movies about real-life sensational events are some of the greatest films of all time—think The Social Network, Moneyball, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short, and JFK. It was inevitable someone would make a movie about the 2021 GameStop meme stock sensation For those not familiar with this situation or have chosen to eliminate any memories from 2020-2021, GameStop’s stock inexplicably grew to nearly $500/share primarily due to a Reddit page, causing reverberations and losses to Wall Street and hedge funds. Many of the aforementioned biopics were made years after their respective events took place. Craig Gillespie’s watchable and scattered Dumb Money is set to release less than three years from when the stock first started to jump in value.
Common knowledge says that these huge events need time to ruminate in order for their full impact on society. Surprisingly, this isn’t what prevents Dumb Money from entering the S-tier of the best biopics. This isn’t to say this film belongs in the garbage tier. It’s incredibly solid—a B or B- romp if you will—that leaves you wanting so much more from such a wild time in our history.
Set amidst the thick of the pandemic in late 2020 and early 2021, Keith Gill (Paul Dano) works as a financial broker for MassMutual and moonlights as a financial YouTuber. Both on his YouTube channel (where he’s known as “Roaring Kitty”) and on the Reddit page “Wall Street Bets”, he’s very bullish on the GameStop stock and invests $53,000 in it. His claims gain traction and, over time, many people invest in the stock, and the price of the company skyrockets.
But, many hedge funds were shorting—betting against—the GameStop stock, and Keith and his followers were causing a short squeeze. Melvin Capital head Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) finds his massive short position on the stock in shambles whilst getting billionaires Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio), and Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) involved. Other characters with various ties to the stock are featured as all these people figure out how to make the most money from GameStop.
All these sensationalized retellings are made with impeccable style. Snappy cuts, fourth wall breaks, fantastic background score, and big performance, to name a few, are staples of this genre that make them so easy and fun to watch. And, even though the situations are far from it, many of these movies are very funny. Dumb Money has many of these qualities—which is why it’s so inherently watchable—but it feels like a copycat rather than its own entity.
The uninspired score by Will Bates is a direct rip-off of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ masterpiece score from The Social Network. The editing is taken straight from The Big Short as scenes cut to different characters but tries to tie them all together at some point. What makes those great movies singular and this one unoriginal is each of those elite directors has their own signature flair. Gillespie is a director I tend to enjoy but he lacks a unique style.
But, it’s not the lack of style nor the copycat elements that max out Dumb Money at 3 stars. It’s the messy and unfocused writing that I found wildly grating. Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo’s screenplay, adapted from Ben Mezrich’s “The Antisocial Network,’ is all over the place and features too many characters. On top of that, the movie focuses too much time on the underwritten characters.
The film’s opening act is fantastic since it starts in January 2021 with the GameStop stock booming and Wall Street freaking out. When this whole situation was unfolding in real-time, this is what made this story so fascinating to track. It wasn’t the slow rise to $15 or $20 a share, it was the jump to $50 and $100 that made this so unbelievable. In a baffling move, the movie goes back to the middle of 2020 chronicling when Keith Gill first took notice of GameStop.
I wouldn’t have minded if the only backstories we got were Keith Gill’s and Gabe Plotkin’s, but we also get backstories of GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos), college students Riri (Myha’la Herrold) and Harmony (Talia Ryder), and nurse Jennifer (America Ferrera). I’m going to say this off the bat: all of these characters are severely underwritten, bland, and immensely slow down the movie. Virtually all of these characters should have been written off and the movie should have focused on Keith and the billionaires (quick side note: the craziest revelation of this movie might have come in the credits where the audience finds out Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are executive producers on the movie, absolutely bonkers).
Part of the reason we love movies like The Social Network, The Big Short, and The Wolf of Wall Street is that the portrayal of magnanimous and insane billionaires make the best characters. I understand Dumb Money’s intent to focus on the common man because this is one of the rare situations where the average person had a hand in dismantling Wall Street. Unfortunately, this approach makes for such a mundane viewing experience.
Any time the movie shifted to the college girls or Marcus, I kept wondering when we would see Gabe or Vlad. Rogen, Offerman, and Stan are doing good work with the little screen time they have. Stan is in 3-4 scenes which happen to be the film’s best scenes. He’s severely underused and should’ve been a bigger part of the movie.
By attempting to set up all these characters, the first half of the movie is quite a slog. It’s paced oddly and you’re just waiting for the movie to catch up to the point where the movie started. One thing Dumb Money does exceptionally well in this portion—something no other movie has done this successfully—is its portrayal of COVID circa late 2020 and early 2021. From the impeccable needle drops to the TikTok of it all to the masterful depiction of masks and the various ways people were “wearing” their masks, Gillespie and his team absolutely nailed it in this aspect.
Once the stock hits an insane number and all the rich people are scrambling, that’s when the movie really takes off. It moves at a breakneck pace and trying to see all these billionaires come to grapple with the fact that some guy named “Roaring Kitty” made them lose billions of dollars is great. The whole situation is still hard to believe and the movie embraces the absurdity of it all in this portion with most of the laughs and fun chaoticness in this second half. I wish, however, the movie spent a bit more time explaining the connections between Gabe, Ken, and Steve but that seems to be a casualty of spending so much time on less interesting characters.
Gillespie gets a strong leading performance from Dano. The character of Keith Gill aka “Roaring Kitty” is something the wildly talented Dano could do in his sleep but he’s absolutely game for the role and doesn’t approach it lazily. Pete Davidson is 2 of 3 for me this year with amusing turns in this movie and Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (his cameo in Fast X was abysmal). He gets some of Dumb Money’s funniest lines and Gillespie uses him perfectly.
Even with all my complaints about the unfocused nature of the movie’s direction and screenplay, Dumb Money is still quite watchable. It has fun aspects and, at 100-minutes, never overextends its welcome. You’ll leave this movie thinking about the wasted potential, though. This could have been S-tier in the hands of a tighter screenplay and assured direction. On the flip side, because it was so soon and it deals with COVID, this could have been a Wall Street-collapse-level disaster. It’s not near that and it’s not going to the moon, either.