Only one word is good enough to describe Wall Street: greed. Since its inception, the idea of being able to play the odds on the stock market has been seen as a fair way to make your own wealth in the United States. But time and time again, we see that this American institution is corrupt from all angles, and it leaves the average man or woman frustrated at the idea of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Case in point, in the 2015 film The Big Short, while the film depicts a group of outsiders going against the system and shorting the U.S housing market and making millions of dollars, yet they are still outsiders within the industry. They were lucky enough to find that the housing market was going to crumble, and they got rich off the lives of average families who had nothing to show for. While entertaining, there is still something that leaves a sour taste in your mouth watching that film. But for Craig Gillespie’s Dumb Money, we have a real rag to riches story about a group of people who we can invest with as they fight to shatter a broken system.
Set within the first two months of 2021, we center on Brockton, Massachusetts where Keith Gill (Paul Dano) and his family reside. By day, he wakes up early in the morning to try and reach a four-minute mile before he goes to work at a small insurance company. His family live right around the corner from his wife Caroline (Shailene Woodley) and their brand new baby. You could say he lives an average, quiet life. But at night, when everyone goes to sleep, he pours a beer, walks down into his basement, puts on a t-shirt filled with adorable kittens, wraps a bandana on his forehead, and transforms into his streaming personality, Roaring Kitty. In doing multiple YouTube videos detailing his stock position (which is a hobby for him), he tells all of his followers to buy stock for the video game company, GameStop. Dano gives an incredible performance throughout the film, especially in every reenactment of Keith’s videos, creating not just an online persona, but a confident leader that people can follow behind. He’s invested $53,000 of his own money into this wild idea, which is the entirety of his family’s savings. But he has done the math over and over again and is extremely confident that this will pay off.
As he is making these videos, we see the perspective of several of his followers, and how their lives have not only been affected by the system we live in but also the COVID pandemic. They include Jennifer Campbell (America Ferrera), a nurse with two kids who’s recently gone through a divorce. Marcus (Anthony Ramos) is a GameStop store clerk who is entering company dance contests (moving to the tune of “Savage” by Megan Thee Stallion) and trying to go up the company ladder to get into a high-paying position. And lastly, there is Harmony (Talia Ryder) and Riri (Myha’la Harold), a college couple who are each 150K in student debt. All three storylines are effortlessly woven together with Keith’s story by screenwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo as all of their stories share one thing, trust. It’s the trust that Keith’s insane bet will pay off, and they will all be able to have enough money to chase their dreams.
Gillespie and his editor, Oscar winner Kirk Baxter, deliver this wild story with tons of information at a steady pace, not allowing the audience to get lost, as well as not having to put any of its stars in a bathtub with a glass of champagne to explain what a reverse mortgage is. They treat the audience as if they are smart enough to understand what is going on and explain that the stock starts going up from $3.75 a share all the way up to $140.00 a share, and makes every single one of our protagonists rich with money they have never seen before in their lives. But they are cashing in their investments just yet because with every day that passes, and each day their stock keeps becoming more valuable, the more money the hedge fund firms that shorted the stock keep losing, thus making this run on GameStop stock by Keith and his followers a chance at some real change in the system if they hold firm.
While we are seeing the success of this story, we also witness the other side as well, as Gabe Plotkin (Seth Rogan), the founder of Melvin Capital Management, is seen laughing off this GameStop mass buy at the beginning of the film, continuing to short the stock, betting that the stock will finally go down and he will gain off the mistake of Keith and everyone else who bought the stock. But as the time goes by, and the stock keeps rising, he keeps bleeding money, leading to a six billion dollar loss, therefore having to ask Kenneth Griffin (a devilishly hilarious Nick Offerman) to buy into his fund and save him. But Griffin, CEO of Citadel LLC, plays dirty, working alongside the investment app Robinhood founders Vlad Tenev (Sebastian Stan) and Rushi Kota (Baiju Bhatt), to control the app that all the stocks were bought from, running down the price of the stock, and trying to bleed the investments of every follower of Keith’s idea. Blending in these powerful yet silly personalities only sharpens the narrative that our major corporations are run by plenty of powerful morons who think they can rule the world without any of their actions being punished. And in fact, a lawsuit in 2021 against Citadel and Robinhood was dismissed in their favor, closing the matter of collusion between the two companies.
As Dumb Money unfolds, it becomes a modern day David and Goliath, with the rich trying their best to crush Keith and his investment, as well as every dirty tactic in the book to make sure people start selling their stock so they can recoup as much of their lost profits as they can. But all is stubbornness, or call it stupidity, but Gill and his followers don’t budge, even though everyone in his family, including his annoying brother Kevin (Pete Davidson), is telling him that he needs to sell his stock. Ultimately, this act is that of the American spirit and the pride of standing up against a bully and fighting for what Gill thinks is right. In doing so, Dano delivers another compelling performance, and alongside stellar work from Ferrera, Ramos, and Woodley, and everyone else’s committed work, Dumb Money features one of the best ensembles of the year so far.
Dumb Money isn’t afraid to go after both sides, as it goes after the hedge fund owners, it also shines a light on the negative aspects that the Reddit culture can birth if not unchecked. By doing this, it showcases that even in a story like this, where there are some good people involved at the top or the bottom, money will still bring out the worst in people, and greed will always take over. Dumb Money succeeds in crafting a well-oiled, information comedy that is Craig Gillespie’s best film to date as well as the biggest surprise of the year so far.
This review is from the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. Sony Pictures will release Dumb Money in select U.S. theaters on September 15 and wide on September 29.