‘Dumb Money’ Turns the GameStop Saga Into the Gen Z ‘Big Short’

Dumb Money - Credit: Claire Folger/Sony Pictures
Dumb Money - Credit: Claire Folger/Sony Pictures

“I like the stock!”

In terms of revolutionary rallying cries, it’s no “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!” or “We will fight them on the beaches …” or “They will never take our freedom!” But by the time that Keith Gill, a.k.a. Roaring Kitty — Reddit and YouTube poster, red headband model, reluctant messiah — told a congressional committee that he’d inspired dozens of online traders to buy stock in GameStop partially because he felt it was undervalued, yet mostly because he liked it, something close to a movement had already taken place. That quote just gave it a slogan, one that let a thousand memes bloom. Hedge-fund managers had bet against GameStop. Retail traders bought in bulk, driving the price up, then refused to sell. The result caused massive losses on one side and huge gains on the other. More importantly, it was considered a victory for the common man over the professional stock-market fatcats.

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All because Gill liked the stock. Throw your diamond hands in the air!

This is the story that Dumb Money wants to tell: a finance-nerd David sling-shooting all those Wall Street Goliaths right in the nuts. For some, the GameStop saga was an insider-baseball game for the day-trading set that somehow became national news. For filmmaker Craig Gillespie (I, Tonya) and screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, however, it’s the perfect basis for a slobs-vs.-snobs comedy that’s infused with class-warfare issues and righteous anger. In order to adapt Ben Mezrich’s book The Antisocial Network, which covered the whole shebang from start to finish, they’ve borrowed a mosaic narrative template and the use of an all-star cast as subcultural tour guides from another wonky-to-accessible movie with famous faces. Call this The Big Short Squeeze.

Gill (Paul Dano, in full twitchy hero mode) is still the closest thing there is to a protagonist here, a guy who works as a stock analyst by day and, after he ties on his Karate Kid headband and dons a funky cat T-shirt, becomes an online financial pundit by night. His wife, Caroline (Shailene Woodley), is one of several stand-ins for the audience, specifically viewers who couldn’t tell a bear market from a bull market. She supports her husband unconditionally, it seems, but also occasionally asks him, “So how much money did we just make?” for what feels like our benefit. No celebrities break the fourth wall in a bubble bath to explain junk bonds. Still, the filmmakers key in early to the necessary hand-holding by introducing an ensemble of folks via onscreen text, along with their current net worth. Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), who runs the hedge fund Melvin Capital, is sitting on billions. A nurse named Jenny (America Ferrera), who dabbles in trading, has something close to $500. And so on.

It’s a smart move, not only to give us a sense of who has what at stake and how much they stand to gain or lose, but by drawing out explicit class lines from the jump. The phrase “dumb money” refers to noninstitutional and/or nonaffiliated investors who nonetheless are grouped together; it’s not a surprise to hear that Wall Street brokers coined the dripping-with-contempt phrase. Gill, along with a host of fictional stand-ins for the Joes and Janes who frequented the Reddit thread “wallstreetbets” and hung on Roaring Kitty’s every video-recorded word, want to reclaim the term. So we’re “dumb” money, huh. OK then. We’ll show you who the idiots are.

Cue essential workers like Jenny, retail grunts like Marcus (Anthony Ramos), college students like Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Industry‘s Myha’la Herrold), and working-class stiffs like Keith’s knucklehead brother Kevin (Pete Davidson, stealing scenes like a jewel thief), all banding together to make sure that the little people don’t get screwed over by the big swinging dicks. That group includes Plotkin, fellow hedge fund manager Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio), Robinhood co-founder Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan), and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), owner of the trading firm Citadel. It helps to remember that all of this took place around early 2021, when the pandemic was still raging, poor people were scrambling to make ends meet, and billionaires were renting out full resorts. No one is questioning who the good guys and the bad guys are here.

Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen in ‘Dumb Money.’
Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen in ‘Dumb Money.’

Dumb Money never lets you forget which side these respective characters are on, or more importantly, which side it’s on. It knows the game is rigged, and who exactly is rigging it to stay in their favor. The fact that it never quite tips into dumbing this stuff down, yet still manages to translate most everything you need to know in order to understand why those “hold the line” memes in regard to not selling GameStop stock was viewed as an act of social rebellion, is impressive. That it never fully tips into being pure Oscarbait by combining marquee names cracking wise and Important Issues Torn From Recent Headlines may be even more awe-inspiring.

There’s both a breeziness to the tone and a sense of rage burbling just underneath the surface, so when we eventually do get to that congressional hearing at the end, you’re still laughing while also resisting the urge to pump your fist. Gillespie and his movie-star cast aren’t trying to short squeeze the topic for statuettes. They’re just laying out what happened, why it happened, and why it mattered in the most audience-friendly manner imaginable, then take the whole thing to the moon. And it’s the lack of pandering in the way that they do it while also drawing clear battle lines that make it a surprisingly safe bet. We like the stock here.

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