Dumb Money Review: This Timely Film Can't Live Up To Real Life [TIFF 2023]

The GameStop short is one of the most fascinating events in recent history, a real-life David vs. Goliath battle that cost billions upon billions of dollars. It's a true testament to the power and effect of social media, and how one man can lead an army of willing participants all the way to the freaking moon. Naturally, such a unique and exciting story is ripe for the Hollywood treatment, so to the surprise of quite literally nobody, that movie is here. "Dumb Money," directed by Craig Gillespie ("I, Tonya") and written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo, takes us into the world of GameStop stock through Keith Gill (Paul Dano) aka Reddit user Roaring Kitty.

Gill noticed something that nobody else did through intense research — that GameStop as a stock was undervalued. That went against the belief of all-powerful hedge fund managers, who bet on GameStop to fail by shorting the stock. Gill went against the majority and presented his findings to the subreddit Wall Street Bets, and things went wild. Unfortunately, the film doesn't really dive deeper into the details than that. "Dumb Money" feels like too cursory a glance into the specifics of incredibly complex stock market drama. If you're not overly familiar with the specifics of shorting, short squeezing, or gamma squeezing, you're not going to get that here. That's frustrating since so much of the film relies on the drama surrounding these terms — "Dumb Money" really could have benefitted from a Margot Robbie in the bathtub explaining mortgage-backed bonds kind of moment.

The script largely focuses on the human element of the GameStop craze, through the perspective of good — Gill, various Reddit users including Jenny (America Ferrera) and Marcus (Anthony Ramos) and Riri (Myha'la) — and evil, through hedge fun billionaires Ken Griffin (Nick Offerman), Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogen) and Steve Cohen (Vincent D'Onforio). The lines are firmly drawn between the working-class people looking for a chance to finally move up in the world, and those who have everything and are trying to keep it. Unfortunately, it never really dives deeper than that. It's all too familiar — the bad guys are bad because they have lots of money, and succeed by getting smaller companies to fail. I agree with the sentiment, but none of the performances feel distinguished — the film tries to incorporate way too many voices in a short amount of time, so we rarely get a sense of who these people are and why they deserve to be taken down a peg, beyond their net worth.

"Dumb Money" straddles the line between being a hard truth drama about the brutal state of the economy and how it feels purposefully rigged against the little guy, and a laugh-out-loud comedy about the absurdity of the situation. It's much more successful on the comedic front, bolstered by a hilarious turn from Pete Davidson as Kevin Gill, Keith's brother, who has fantastic mannerisms and timing. But the balance feels a bit off, and "Dumb Money" often feels like it's taking itself too seriously, especially when it frequently leans into how silly things feel.

Charming and entertaining, but lacking impact

There are moments where the vast ensemble shines, and the most compelling character is definitely Dano's Gill. Dano is a gifted performer, and he's excellent here as a man who holds his head above water when most would be hugely overwhelmed. His wife, played by Shailene Woodley, is mostly there to knowingly smile and nod at the right times and provide encouragement — it's a shame that her character falls into the annoying trope of the doting wife to a great man, without getting much of a personality of her own.

For a story as surprising and unpredictable as the true GameStop story was, it's frustrating to see "Dumb Money" follow such a familiar structure. What it does do especially well is its exploration of the community aspect of the situation. For the GameStop stock to soar, it required people around the world to unite and not sell the constantly rising stock, which rose higher and faster than any pundit could anticipate. The scenes of those investors, for whom the money is beyond life-changing, struggling to either sell or keep holding (diamond hands!), is where the film is most exciting and most incisive. To sell would be life-changing, but holding is a push for larger societal and structural change, and an all too rare chance to stick it to the companies with all the control. There's also a fascinating look at the general divide, where parents are baffled by their children's new stock portfolios, perhaps understanding a universal truth better than their kids — what goes up must come down.

"Dumb Money" is a fun time at the movies, with strong performances and some great moments. But It also feels like it's a bit too soon to make a movie about events that happened less than two years ago. It's impossible to really grasp the impact the GameStop situation had on finance and the world as a whole because it's simply too early. Right now the impact feels like ripples, but perhaps 10 or 20 years from now, it could be waves.

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10