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Review: 'Dumb Money' Invests in its Cast Without Dividends From the Script

"I just like the stock."

Imagine if you will a boxing match of the clichéd David versus Goliath. In one corner, there's Goliath, represented by Wall Street expectations and rules circumvented by billionaire hedge fund owners seeking greed. In the other corner is David, the little guy who knows little about the stock market but wants to invest their hard-earned money to make a quick buck. Already, the two boxers are in completely different weight classes, as Goliath has resources, money, and insider connections that make them an undeniable favorite amongst pundits and experts of the sport.

On the other hand, David has the willpower and summons strength to use common sense and street smarts to outwit the larger opponent. They just need a lifeline, such as Robin Hood, who often robs from the rich to give to the poor. But what happens if Robin Hood is the referee of this boxing match while simultaneously favoring Goliath?

The answer is "Dumb Money," the newest film from director Craig Gillespie. But unlike Gillespie's other fascinating works like "I, Tonya" and "Lars and the Real Girl," his venture into the world of high finance and stonks leaves a lot on the table. Given Gillespie's reputation for frequent collaborations with performers like Seth Rogen and Sebastian Stan, the cast of "Dumb Money" provides the very recent story of the 2021 GameStop short squeeze a much-needed lift.

The events in "Dumb Money" surround the video game retailer GameStop and the short squeeze that amateur investor Keith Gill (Paul Dano) perpetuated just two years ago. Gill and his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley) make a bet that GameStop is the stock to look out for, and Gill makes YouTube videos and participates in Reddit forums outlining his strategy for investing and holding onto the stock. Several people throughout the U.S. begin to take notice, including a nurse (America Ferrera), Keith's brother Kevin (Pete Davidson), a GameStop store clerk (Anthony Ramos), and college students at the University of Texas, Austin (Myha'la Herrold & Talia Ryder). Each represents a population segment that follows in Keith's footsteps, invests in GameStop using the Robinhood app, and holds onto their position until Keith says to sell.

Robinhood is the platform used by most individual investors, like students and those new to the stock market, as it facilitates commission-free trades within the app. Many of those who choose to invest in GameStop using Keith's advice are doing so because they feel they are sticking it to Goliath, meaning they are bucking typical Wall Street trends and following their gut to achieve great wealth in a short amount of time. This is referred to in the film as "dumb money" via a short squeeze of the stock.

As many of us remember, because it was only in 2021 that these events occurred, GameStop grew exponentially while most forecasters and hedge fund managers (Seth Rogen & Vincent D'Onofrio) were shorting the stock. These wealthy men lost billions while individual investors and Keith Gill gained millions. At one point, the stock grew 30 times its valuation in a matter of days.

Herein lies where "Dumb Money" goes wrong and fast. While the film presents a semi-factual account of the David versus Goliath boxing match, it soon devolves into more of a wrestling match with the truth. Fictional characters stand in for real-life figures, while writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo attempt to focus on Keith Gill's family background and COVID-era politics of the time. When the context of Robinhood's owners (Sebastian Stan & Rushi Kota) is explored, including their association with entrepreneur and villain Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), it is all surface level.

Most of the characters of this saga trend towards the surface level, except for Keith Gill. Pete Davidson provides some much-needed comic relief as Keith's brother, although his schtick quickly gets tiresome. America Ferrera's lonely essential worker character is easy to root for, but she almost seems like a sheep regarding her allegiance to Keith's investing advice.

The film would be nothing without the rest of its impressive cast, which carries the premise across the finish line. Much of the problem with "Dumb Money" comes from its overuse of real-life news footage, CNN coverage, TikTok responses to the GameStop phenomena, and social media posts to Keith's videos. Yes, these sequences can be used in films to heighten the dramatics of the moment, but Gillespie tends to lean on these videos to drive home the point of how influential this moment is.

Dano portrays Keith Gill as a cult leader to the point that it's a bit unnerving, but the actor does a splendid job of playing up the nerdy side of Keith's disposition. Cat-loving and headband-wearing Keith gained a large following of would-be investors, and many people still follow what the now-millionaire initially started. As the main character of a recent plot, Keith is fun to follow but isn't the most inspirational figure.

"Dumb Money" tries hard to be "The Big Short" but drops the ball. It is in no way a bad movie, but its attempt to paint the little guy as being squeezed out by Big Wall Street as a full-scale movement simply doesn't do the trick. Some terrible business practices performed by Robinhood and several hedge funds of the time have since been called out. This film does an excellent job of painting those pictures but needs more characterization to represent the movement it presents as important and essential viewing.

Ticket Rating: 🎟🎟🎟


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