After coming to prominence with the lovable Ryan Gosling indie from 2007, Lars and the Real Girl, Australian filmmaker Craig Gillespie seems to have found his niche within Hollywood, creating ripped-from-the-headlines dramedies about underdogs and the unfairly villainised. First there was Million Dollar Arm, about sports agent JB Bernstein’s search for baseball greatness, then I, Tonya, his take on infamous ice skater Tonya Harding (which netted Margot Robbie her first Oscar nomination). In 2022 he had a stint in television with Pam & Tommy (about the Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee sex tape scandal) and Mike (about Mike Tyson). There was also Cruella, his live-action take on the villainess from 101 Dalmatians, but the less said about that the better.
But Gillespie takes on a much more contemporary real-life story in Dumb Money: the GameStop short squeeze of January 2021, when a group of amateur investors on Reddit inadvertently went to war with Wall Street over the price of shares for a stagnating video game retailer. To explain the intricacies of what a short stop is and why this particular incident was significant would take up the rest of this page. Suffice to say it was a David vs Goliath financial moment – if David was a guy in Massachusetts posting cat memes and Goliath was a Richer than Croesus banker deciding where to put his fifth swimming pool.
The affable Paul Dano takes on a more likeable role than he’s usually afforded as the financial analyst/hobby stock marketer Keith Gill, who was known within the r/wallstreetbets community for his videos about investing and undervalued stock. Among his viewers are nurse Jennifer Campbell (America Ferrera), GameStop employee Marcus (Anthony Ramos) and college students Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Herrold) who invest in GameStop at Gill’s behest.
Facing off against them are the might of Wall Street: wealth management company chief investment officer Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and hedge fund managers Kenneth C Griffin (Nick Offerman) and Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio). This results in a film with a lot of moving parts, and while this might be in the pursuit of showing that the GameStop short squeeze was a team effort, it results in a narrative splintering where no character except Gill really feels particularly compelling.
Aside from this, the film owes a rather obvious debt to Adam McKay’s The Big Short, which arguably did the same thing – point out that when it comes to capitalism, the house always wins – eight years earlier. The comedic beats feel the same, and while the dated internet humour and juvenile bandying of slurs might be accurate, it’s not exactly cinematic. This is a mildly entertaining film that does a decent job of explaining boggling financial concepts, but it’s difficult to see why exactly Gillespie (along with screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo) felt compelled to tell the story in this format. A documentary might have offered more of an insight into the uniquely masculine form of psychopathy that prospers on Wall Street and Reddit alike.
Didn’t this just happen?
Dano is rather charming, but otherwise this is decidedly lacking in epic lolz.
Dare I say Adam McKay has already cornered this market?
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