I’m a reasonably intelligent person, but I freely admit that I barely understood the whole GameStop stock situation (full disclosure: I was once an employee of that company, working at EB Games while in college). So, while I knew the broad strokes, the how and the why escaped me. In a way, that’s almost the ideal way to go into Dumb Money, because it does such an effective job of explaining the affair, not just to make it digestible to an audience, but to also invest you (no pun intended) in the events. It’s a very mainstream effort, but it’s the sort of crowdpleaser that the Toronto International Film Festival tends to love.
Dumb Money succeeds because it has an ability to make you care about the characters within. If it was all jargon and financial babble, you’d check out before long. While it’s clearly indebted to work like The Big Short, Moneyball, and The Social Network, it does forge its own path, which has more comedy and doubles down on the rebel spirit. The result is deeply enjoyable work.
This is based on the true story of the regular folks who managed to turn Wall Street upside down, many getting rich in the process, by taking the failing videogame store GameStop and turning it into one of the hottest stocks out there. It all starts when regular guy Keith Gill (Paul Dano), a part time streamer living with his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley) and baby, posts about putting his life savings into the stock. He has a small following, but believes in this bet, which inspires many others, leading to his social media posts blowing up. What was once just a passionate, if unusual, stock tip turns into a movement, with people like Jenny (America Ferrera), Marcus (Anthony Ramos), Harmony (Talia Ryder), and Riri (Myha’la Herrold) seeing this as a chance to solve their troubles. If they strike a blow for the common folk in the process? All the better.
Of course, Wall Street doesn’t like this, since people like Steve Cohen (Vincent D’Onofrio), Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen), and Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman) make their fortunes in part by betting against these companies/stocks. So, when they realize what’s happening, they fight back, putting pressure on the RobinHood app. What follows turns everything upside down, leading to massive changes in the financial system, albeit far from the actual reform needed. In the center of it all is Keith, strong in his beliefs, but pressured by many, from his troublemaker brother Kevin (Pete Davidson) to eventually the United States Congress.
Paul Dano leads an across the board strong ensemble cast. He really has the everyman feel here, while being unique enough and different enough to sell the idea of Keith catching on. You root for him, which is a huge win for the film, with Dano deserving a ton of credit for that. Dano is best in show, though Pete Davidson is a nice surprise, giving layers to initially a simply comedic part. Shailene Woodley also adds personality to a supportive wife role. There’s also more meat on the bones for the Wall Street moguls, with Seth Rogen underplaying his part, alongside Vincent D’Onofrio going very big. Nick Offerman is, well, Nick Offerman. The investors don’t get as fully developed, though you do care about their struggles. In addition to America Ferrara, Myha’la Herrold, Anthony Ramos, and Talia Ryder, the large cast also includes Clancy Brown, Dane DeHaan, Sebastian Stan, Olivia Thirlby, and many more.
Director Craig Gillespie, alongside writers Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, makes everything equally entertaining and easy to understand. Especially considering how much of it is folks looking at screens, the editing choices, as well as Gillespie’s pacing, keeps you hooked the entire time. The trio also end things on a note that will have you pumped up and ready to cheer, which I did not expect. Nimble and expertly crafted, it’s more evidence that Gillespie is one of the more underrated directors in the business.
Dumb Money doesn’t quite reach the heights of Moneyball or The Social Network, but it’s actually in many ways a better version of The Big Short. It’s a high quality TIFF title that also will play just as well outside of Toronto and the festival environment. There’s a good chance that this becomes a grassroots hit, much like how GameStop’s stock took off. If it happens, it’ll be well deserved, too.