In 2021, when the world was barely out of COVID lockdown, something weird happened in the stock market. Spurred by an unknown investor and YouTuber named Keith “Roaring Kitty” Gill and the rise of Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum, millions of amateur traders started buying shares of GameStop. Gill and his fellow investors had figured out that big-money hedge funds were shorting the stock, meaning they were betting against the company, and in an attempt to both make money and screw over those funds, they decided to get behind the brand, driving the stock’s price from about $.40 a share to well over $300. The world was suddenly introduced to phrases like “Diamond Hands” and “words” like “HODL,” and—up until some suspect intervention by Washington, hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, and the questionable CEOs of trading app Robinhood—a whole lot of regular people got very, very rich (on paper, at least).
With Dumb Money, Hollywood attempts to capture all that weirdness in one movie, with director Craig Gillespie (2017’s I, Tonya) embracing the inanity of Keith Gill’s suburban Massachusetts life, with his basement laundry room, pathetic YouTube setup, and love for frozen chicken tendies. Gill is played by Paul Dano, who is simultaneously triumphant and a little bit sad, choosing to go all-in on GameStop not because he believes in the product, necessarily, but because he believes in the power of the individual investor over the Wall Street behemoths that prey on individuals, who they call “dumb money.” He’s joined onscreen by a robust cast of entertaining players including Seth Rogen, Vincent D’Onofrio, Shailene Woodley, Nick Offerman, Pete Davidson, America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, and Sebastian Stan, all of whom seem fully invested (har har) in making the movie sing.
It’s to the cast and Gillespie’s credit that Dumb Money is as good as it is, because the actual “story” behind the rise of GameStop’s stock is a little cerebral, even if it involved a bunch of first-time investors who didn’t know their NASDAQ from their NYSE. Unlike The Big Short, which took financial issues and made them seem ridiculously tongue-in-cheek, Dumb Money sort of bathes in the mundanity of it all, doing its best to explain short squeezes, balance sheets, and call options while still focusing on the individual human beings who, arguably, should stand to benefit most from a stock doing well. It’s a combination that works, making the movie both tense and triumphant, frustrating and fun. Any cash and time moviegoers choose to spend on Dumb Money will be well invested, indeed. R, 104 min.