Keith 'Roaring Kitty' Gill (Paul Dano) is a part-time YouTuber and financial analyst who frequents the Reddit forum r/wallstreetbets. As he begins to talk up the potential value of GameStop, hedge funds such as Melvin Capital - led by Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) - begin to short the stock. However, when huge numbers of retail investors (America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, Talia Ryder, Myha'la Herrold) begin to follow Keith's advice and bet on GameStop, the stock price soars and the hedge funds begin to feel the squeeze...
There's been a recent trend of turning corporate adventures and misadventures into movies, and much like the events dramatised, the success has been varied. 'The Beanie Bubble' was as underwhelming as the eventual collapse of the Beanie Baby market, while 'Air' somehow convinced people to root for a billion-dollar corporation that has exploited labour laws and allegedly utilised sweatshops and slave labour. In 'Dumb Money', it's a rare example of corporate dominance being supplanted by a group of people outside of the margins. The retail investors who brought hedge funds to their knees in the GameStop saga are pulled from different social strata. One's a nurse and single mother, played with real feeling by America Ferrara. Anthony Ramos plays a GameStop employee who actually likes games, and is paired beautifully against his skeevy micro-managing manager Dane DeHaan.
Even Paul Dano's character isn't your traditional, annoying-as-hell YouTube "content creator" type. Dano completely underplays him, portraying him not as some all-knowing guru or some outré hypeman but as a gentle, softly-spoken maven with a young child and a supportive wife. Compared to 'The Big Short', there is no straight-to-camera confessions, no celebrity cameos explaining the intricacies of the stock squeeze strategy or what a subreddit is. 'Dumb Money' instead brings characters to the fore and lets them live the story. In a lot of ways, the whole saga feels perfectly written for the kind of offbeat comedy-drama that Craig Gillespie specialises in. 'Dumb Money' is not as jagged as 'I, Tonya', nor is it as saccharine as 'Million Dollar Arm' either.
Instead, it operates more as a rare indulgence in which those in power who frequently make terrible choices are actually made to face the consequences instead of receiving a bailout. Gillespie's direction keeps the story moving along, picking up the major chapters in the saga such as RobinHood's involvement and eventual morass of dealings with Citadel Securities, to Reddit closing down r/wallstreetbets. Beyond that, what keeps 'Dumb Money' entertaining is how it finely tunes storytelling with entertaining performances by its cast. None of them feel underserved or overwhelmed, and the whole movie has the feel of a zippy ensemble comedy. Indeed, some of the best moments come from offhand moments by Pete Davidson's douchey brother to Paul Dano, or Seth Rogen's hedge fund boss staring at his computer screen in a flop-sweat panic.
It's tempting to dismiss 'Dumb Money' when it was a big news story two years ago, and the outcome of it was some people got rich and some people didn't. Yet, given how rare it is for average people to get a win in the frequently rigged world of stock investment, especially now in the death throes of capitalism, 'Dumb Money' serves a purpose. Not only that, who doesn't love seeing rich people being screwed over? 'Succession' never had any of that, and 'The Big Short' ended with Ryan Gosling et al collecting huge paycheques and the architects of the disaster walking free to do it all over again. At least in 'Dumb Money', there's some kind of payback.